ROSELAND— Diane Latiker sees vacant lots, abandoned buildings, failing schools and unemployment plaguing the Roseland community, and believes reinvestment in the form of jobs and businesses could help save the community.
"As residents of Roseland, we should be held accountable. We’ve got to make our neighborhoods safe, livable and enjoyable for our kids," Latiker said.
Latiker is the founder of Kids Off the Block, which offers programs to help children stay off the street. On Saturday she was joined by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Chicago), local business leaders and a Department of Labor representative, speaking in favor of economic investment in Roseland at a memorial for young people killed by gun violence.
"It takes more than what we have been offering for the last 10 years. It takes investment," Latiker said. "It will definitely have an impact on violence, if the community [if investments are made]. We have to do something regarding our community."
Around 50 community leaders and residents packed into the memorial to talk about a great economic commitment to the area could provide positive outlets for young people.
Roseland, known to some as "Killville," desperately needs a helping hand, Latiker and others said. This year has seen the near-closure of Roseland Hospital, and the neighborhood has suffered 10 homicides, including the recent murder of 16-year-old Maurice Knowles.
Abdullah Brewer, 25, said he's seen results from programs like Latiker's, which helps teens get summer jobs, among other services.
"It was like she got the jobs and the shootings went down," he said.
Kids who once hung out on corners found "they wanted to work," Brewer said.
"It gives you something to do. You aren’t going to be in the streets looking for something to do, if you know what you want to do... and somebody is trying to help you do it so you have the option to shoot for it," Brewer said.
Kelly said she plans to tell her colleagues in Congress about programs like Kids Off the Block when she brings 11 parents to Washington in what she termed "the first urban advocacy day."
"I really want the congresspeople who may not live in urban environments to really hear the plight that people are going through," said Kelly.
"We need to make sure that the urban voices are heard, because we have many massacres all too often in the urban streets in Chicago," she said.
Kelly said they will speak to members of Congress to tell them "we need to invest in Roseland and communities like it, so we don't continue to lose a generation of our young people."