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Fiery Clash Leads Bishop to Take Up Residence on Block of Boarded-Up Homes

By Darryl Holliday | April 15, 2013 5:23pm

WEST ENGLEWOOD — Nearly a third of the homes on the South Side block where Phyllis Robinson lived until last week sit boarded up, their windows shattered, the surrounding lots in tatters.

Gang members recently set Robinson's sister's home on fire after Robinson, 38, said she tried to stand up to them.

But before she left the block, Robinson called the Rev. James Dukes for help, and in response, the Liberation Christian Church bishop made a bold move.

On Monday afternoon, he and several other clergy members took up temporary residence in Robinson's home at 2041 W. 68th Place in an effort to bring stability to the battered neighborhood.

"We want to bring life back to this community," said Dukes while standing next to Robinson at a media conference in front of the home Monday. "We want to become part of the community. We want to bring city services. We want to beautify it with gardens. We want reconstruction."

At least four members of the church at 6810 S. Ashland Ave. will live in the home for two to three weeks, Dukes said.

Dukes got involved last week after Robinson moved into the home with family members. Robinson put a lock on a gate in a gangway in an effort to halt drug deals there.

That led to a fight with gang members, who retaliated by setting her sister's home across the street on fire, Robinson said.

"I hadn't even finished moving my stuff in," Robinson said.

Later, a gang member fired a gun, putting at least two bullet holes in another home on the block, a neighbor said.

Quincetta Graham, whose family has lived on the block for 42 years, witnessed the fight between Robinson and the gang members.

"It's bigger than just a fight," she said, detailing the heated argument that took place between Robinson and several men on the block.

Graham, who was shot in the arm and chest in an unrelated incident in 2011, recalled the tense moments after the spat in which a man "loaded his gun and started shooting" — putting at least two bullet holes in a nearby home.

Robinson "contacted [Dukes] and told him what was going on ... and he said he was on it," she said.

Within hours, Robinson said she received calls from police and members of Liberation Christian Church offering aid.

Still, Robinson left the home and moved to a suburb out of fear. The landlord is allowing Dukes and the other church members to stay in the home, a Dukes spokesman said.

With the help of police officers such as Deputy Cmdr. Leo Schmitz, who was on hand to support the action, Dukes hopes to create a community "hub" open to neighbors as a place of safety and dialogue.

"We couldn't get things done without [the clergy members'] help," Schmitz said. "I like any champion who helps people that need help."

Graham welcomed the clergy to the block.

"This block has a lot of kids," she said. "If [Dukes] can shed some light on this, then by all means."

On Monday Dukes and other community members brought in beds, thoroughly cleaned the stove and placed a sign on the gate of Robinson's former home to welcome neighbors.

"This could be any of us when we live in a city plagued by violence and drugs," Dukes said.

"There comes a defining moment in life when we as community of believers must stand for justice. That time is upon us. We cannot allow a family to be terrorized amongst us, beaten, threatened and [their] house burned."

Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), whose ward includes the block, supports Dukes' mission, said Keevin Woods, a spokesman for the alderman.

"The alderman has always maintained, stated and supported an 'inclusive' approach to the ills of our community," Woods stated in an email. "One person can't do it alone. We need a collective broad approach and strategy. She thanks Bishop Dukes for his resolve, support, and pray for his and the family's safety."