AUBURN GRESHAM —Ryan Williams, who goes by the stage name Little Prophet, said he has been singing hip-hop music since he was 2 years old.
"Music has always been in me. It's my calling. My destiny and my future," said the 8-year-old singer and poet, who lives in south suburban Hazel Crest. "Hip-hop music has kept me on the straight and narrow. For some kids, it's basketball, but for me it's all about the hip-hop culture."
The second grader was among 30 youth who on Friday attended the first installment "free styling" hip-hop gatherings at Salaam restaurant, 700 W. 79th St.
After a 12-year hiatus, the restaurant, owned by the Nation of Islam, reopened in July. It is where Hip Hop Detoxx, a community group, plans to hold gatherings for youth where they can meet other hip-hop artists and sing or recite poetry. The next event is scheduled for April 26.
Enoch Muhammad organized what he said is a peace gathering.
"I officially would like to rename [the restaurant] the Peace Palace for the People. Inside these walls, there will be no disrespect, no violence and no hatred. Only love for one another," Muhammad said. "Every now and then we must detox to remove the poison in out of our minds."
Joining Muhammad at Salaam were a host of other community activists, including the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church on the South Side; Tio Hardiman, director of CeaseFire Illinois; legendary DJ Farley "Jack Master Funk" Keith; and Grammy-award rapper and producer Che "Rhymfest" Smith.
Pfleger, whose church is one mile away from Salaam, said saving youth is his primary mission in life.
"We have to reach out to young people if we are going to make a difference on the street, which seems to be the only thing that matters to them," Pfleger said.
And Hardiman, whose nonprofit organization partnered last year with Chicago police to insert their conflict-resolution strategies to help curb gang violence, added "music is a way to express yourself and when used correctly it could reprogram the minds of many troubled souls."
Williams said he aspires to become a professional singer and once he "makes" it he plans "stay true to my word and help empower those in my community."