AUBURN GRESHAM — Chicago Public Schools officials said thousands of children and their parents are expected to participate in the first ever anti-violence rally at 110 sites that house the Safe Haven Program.
The citywide rallies will take place simultaneously at 11 a.m. Wednesday to call for an end to gun violence, said Phillip Hampton, chief of community and family engagement for CPS.
"We wanted to hold this rally before the Fourth of July holiday to allow the voices of children attending Safe Haven to be heard," Hampton said. "There are many safe haven sites located in communities challenged by violence and we want all of the program sites to stand in unity."
The rallies will be held at the corner outside the sites, which are all churches, according to Hampton.
The city's summer Safe Haven Program began Monday and ends Aug. 8. The free program from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays provides children with free activities, workshops, field trips, and breakfast and lunch.
The Chicago Police Department is also a Safe Haven partner, said Hampton, who plans to attend a rally at the Grace and Peace Church, 2100 N. Kildare Ave.
CPS did not have enrollment numbers available yet, but Sheldon Heights Church of Christ, 11325 S. Halsted St., had 75 students attend on its first day. It is one of five sites on the Far South Side.
"What we want is to drive home the message that our children deserve to grow up peacefully and without the fear of becoming a victim of violence," said the Rev. Leonardo Gilbert, pastor of Sheldon Heights. "The summer is a time when violence spikes and many children lose their lives due to violence, and that needs to stop.
St. Sabina Church, 1210 W. 78th Pl., also hosts the program. The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina and a community activist, has hosted several peace rallies at his Auburn Gresham church. He said he would continue doing so until there is peace in the streets.
"We invite people throughout Chicago to stand up and declare their commitment to occupy our streets this summer to bring about peace," Pfleger said. "Summertime means we are even more at war with gangs, and we need soldiers in our community during a time of war."
Former CeaseFire Director Tio Hardiman praised CPS, saying a citywide anti-violence rally for children and parents is a good way to highlight the need to keep children occupied during the summer months.
We need "to come together with all segments of the community to work on a citywide peace plan," said Hardiman, now executive director of the nonprofit Violence Interrupters, Inc. "Everybody has to play a role in regards to recapturing the minds of our lost youth."
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