AUSTIN — The West Side is getting two new, high-profile residents later this month: the Rev. Al Sharpton Jr. and Martin Luther King III, civil rights leaders coming here temporarily to put a spotlight on the city's gun violence.
The men will live in the same undisclosed building in a West Side neighborhood — reminiscent of Dr. Martin L. King Jr.'s temporary move to a West Side apartment in the 1960s as Chicago became the hub of the civil rights movement.
King III, the slain civil rights leader's eldest son, is a community activist and former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Sharpton will rent an apartment on the West Side and commute from New York once a week for two to three months, according to Rachel Noerdlinger, a spokeswoman for the Baptist minister.
"He's staying on the West Side so he can talk to people and show that people should not be afraid to stand together to fight gun violence," Noerdlinger said. "Rev. Sharpton plans to be in Chicago Oct. 20, and he will hold a news conference on that day to talk more about his presence there."
For security reasons the neighborhood where he will be staying is not being released, said Maureen Forte, president of the Chicago chapter of the National Action Network, a nonprofit organization Sharpton founded in 1991.
Chicago Police Department officials said it is open to working with Sharpton on reducing gun violence.
"While crime is down this year, there’s more work to be done, and we welcome Rev. Sharpton and anyone else who will partner with us and help elevate the conversation around the need for sensible laws that keep illegal guns out of our communities and out of the hands of criminals," said Adam Collins, a spokesman for Chicago Police. "Our officers partner closely with ministers, block clubs, community leaders and residents every day through the CAPS program and through a return to community policing."
Sharpton, 59, will work closely with the Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church, and the the Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr., pastor of New Mount Pilgrim M.B. Church both in the Austin neighborhood, said Forte.
Gun violence is a problem the West Side knows too well, and Sharpton coming to town is a plus for the community, said Tio Hardiman, former director of CeaseFire Illinois.
"I would like to applaud Rev. Al Sharpton for moving to Chicago's West Side to help bring much needed attention to the epidemic of violence that continues to destroy so many lives in Chicago," Hardiman said. "Rev. Al Sharpton's moving to Chicago does not mean that the police are not doing a good job. Rev. Sharpton coming to Chicago should be a plus and not a minus for the people."
He added that if Chicago really wants to curb gun violence it should consider providing more safety nets for at-risk males.
"One of the main factors contributing to violence amongst African-American youth is no unity in the community. The violence in Chicago will not end until people from all walks of society reach out and help the young men involved in a violent lifestyle," explained Hardiman, a gubernatorial candidate. "You cannot arrest your way out of an epidemic."
Sharpton will also hold an Oct. 21 afternoon book signing at DuSable Museum of African American History.