The 56-year-old mother of eight, who is the founder and executive director of Kids Off the Block Inc., smiled as she was presented with a Shine the Light award by pop star Justin Timberlake.
“Kids Off the Block began with 10 neighborhood kids from the Roseland neighborhood in Chicago, but now impacts thousands of lives through Latiker’s vision,” Timberlake told a crowd of thousands.
Latiker, who returned Monday from Los Angeles, said she is humbled by the recognition but prefers to focus on youth violence especially in Roseland where she has lived more than 25 years.
“Our kids are dying on the streets everyday. That is where we need to channel our attention,” Latiker said.
Besides Latiker, 9-year-old Joshua Williams also received a Shine the Light award for his Miami-based Joshua’s Heart nonprofit organization that he founded with his mother to feed the homeless.
And Miami Heat basketball star Dwyane Wade, who grew up in south suburban Robbins, was also honored by BET with a Humanitarian Award for his Wade’s World Foundation in Chicago.
But as Latiker prepares for KOB’s 10-year anniversary event on July 12, she is frustrated by ongoing city violence impacting youth.
“You just never know. It could be none or it could be 100,” she added. “Obviously I hope no one else dies but I know that is wishful thinking as long as there are guns out here in the hands of children.
“The fight to save our kids does not end here,” added Latiker. “It only means I must fight even harder if I want to keep everyone safe and alive for another year.”
KOB works with kids between the ages of 12 to 24 and 80 percent of the participants are black males, Latiker said.
“Black males are quickly becoming extinct in the world and we have to save them. I have had boys from different gangs join our programs, but that has never been a problem because everyone respects me,” explained Latiker. “Everyone knows once they are inside the center it is a safe haven from danger and no one crosses that line.”
There are more than 300 Chicago kids participating in KOB, which is based at 11627 S. Michigan Ave. Latiker lives next door.
Across the street from her home is a memorial with 376 stones, which Latiker said represents the number of people under the age of 24 who have been killed in Chicago since 2007, when the memorial was created.
She is currently rebuilding the memorial to accommodate more stones “since more youth are dying day in and day out,” Latiker said. “There should be no need to build memorials to recognize the lost of our youth. But until the killing stops more memorials will be built.”