CHATHAM — If violence in the Chatham area is ever going to be curbed — and if the South Side neighborhood is ever going to see a revival — more needs to be done to reduce the number of school dropouts, create permanent jobs and improve economic development.
That was the conclusion of several city, state and national leaders who took part in a 90-minute meeting at the South Side district offices of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago).
"The city is committed to bringing back what has slipped away, and that's a once-vibrant community," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel of the neighborhood's history of having a large black middle-class community home to many retired teachers, among others.
In addition to Emanuel and Rush, the meeting at 700 E. 79th St. included Gov. Pat Quinn; Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez; Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett; Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy; and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Local business owners were also there. Josephine Wade, who owns Josephine's Cooking, 436 E. 79th St., said truancy contributes to violence more than people think.
"The ones doing all this shooting in Chatham are the ones not in school," she said. "If they were in school they would not be doing all this shooting."
Wade said she she speaks daily with youths as they walk pass her soul-food restaurant and discovered many are high school dropouts.
"These kids tell me they stopped going to school when they were 9 and now they are 14 and 15-years old," she said. "They're the ones committing the crimes but no one seems to be focused on that."
Education is key to fixing the city's violence problem, said Preckwinkle, who was an elementary teacher for 10 years before entering politics. She recalled a meeting she had with Emanuel just before he was sworn into office.
"I talked to him about some of the issues that we face," said Preckwinkle. "I told him, '[The] failure of your public schools feed our jails.' It is really important that we keep kids in school and that we show them opportunities for a pathway to success."
Melinda Kelly, executive director of the Chatham Business Association, also thinks more employment opportunities are needed.
"One of the things we discussed today was greater job creation. When you create a job for just one person you are then exposed to the challenges of the whole family," Kelly said. "And I'm not talking about just summer jobs but permanent jobs."
The recent rollout of ComEd's smart meters is one way the utility provider is creating job opportunities, according to Anne Pramaggiore, CEO of ComEd. Pramaggiore, however, couldn't say how many jobs had been created by the new technology.
Rush said his district office is located in police beat 624, which is "one of the most violent police beats in Chicago."
Beat 624 is bordered by 75th Street, 80th Street, Martin Luther King Drive and the Metra railroad tracks to the east. Besides Chatham, the beat also includes parts of Grand Crossing and Avalon Park.
Last week Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep special education teacher Betty Howard, 58, was fatally shot while inside a real estate office.
"She was killed a block away from my office. That could have been me or anyone else hit by a stray bullet," Rush said.
But while acknowledging that violence is a problem, McCarthy said it was also the first beat where he launched his Operation Impact strategy that puts more officers on foot patrol.
"While we have had some success [with Operation Impact], it is not a victory. It is just progress," McCarthy said. "We know methods that work and that is what we are doing to address violence in our city."