ROGERS PARK — One of the three men shot on Howard Street Oct. 13, prompting Evanston and Chicago police to publicly unite against violence, said despite a police label, he's not a gang member at all.
In fact, he's a reformed gang member who works for CeaseFire, he said.
And Oct. 14 was not the first time he's been shot in Rogers Park.
Just a month earlier, Ralph Edwards, 40, was shot on the same 2000 block of West Howard Street on Sept. 5 as the neighborhood took a moment to celebrate the Labor Day weekend.
"In our community, this is like an everyday thing almost, so it was almost like the norm — you never know what might happen," Edwards said.
In both instances, police said the victims in the shootings were gang members, a label Edwards staunchly denies.
At one time, more than eight years ago by now, it was true, he said. But not anymore.
"That's the reason I always stay so grounded in my neighborhood because this is the same community I did so much wrong in, but I'm also respected in," he said. "By me constantly being out there almost 24 hours a day being in [gang members'] ears, that's what led to me being shot, both times."
He said on the evening of Oct. 13 he and two friends were sitting near the strip mall where Howard Food Mart sits at 2059 W. Howard St. talking hip-hop and music production when shots rang out.
Edwards said he didn't see anything because he ran into the convenience store as soon as he realized what was going on. He had three fresh bullet wounds in his leg.
He later learned he'd been mistakenly caught in the crossfire of an emotionally-driven social media "beef" between gang members who'd mistaken him for their target, he said.
Edwards says he's well-known and respected in the area, even among gang members who call him "Ralph" rather than a street nickname.
He said he later received an apology from the shooter.
On Sept. 5, he said a business on Howard Street had opened its banquet hall for a private party and the shop's owner had asked Edwards to move residents hanging out in front of the building slightly down the block as to not draw attention of police or unwanted visitors.
Edwards said people happily complied and moved about two blocks away, but as he stood guard on the block a gunman again opened fire into the crowd ,striking him twice in the legs.
Usually people in the community can easily spot him with his neon orange CeaseFire shirt on, he said.
But after CeaseFire shut down operations after state budget cuts, Edwards said he's mostly been wearing his regular clothes while working in the neighborhood.
At a CAPS meeting Tuesday night a resident asked if cuts to CeaseFire had affected policing or crime in the area. Mayra Gomez, a Rogers Park police community organizer, said she wanted to make clear there is no affiliation between police or CAPS and CeaseFire.
"Will they say they work with police? Sure they will," she said. "I'm not against anyone who wants to reform their life, but at the same time, we have to look at it for what it is."
The aggravating factor in both shootings was social media, Edwards said, with the shooter not realizing Edwards had been in the crowd.
But Edwards said whether or not he was in the crowd is irrelevant, and he's trying to teach young people involved with gangs today that there's a better way.
He said he's constantly reminding them their emotionally-charged actions can easily take someone's life, even accidentally.
"The first time I got shot I read a newspaper and thought wow, no matter what I do, no matter how much good I do, I know that they still are gonna say I'm a gangbanger," he said. "That's what made people nervous, out of all that got shot, me."
It's frustrating, he said, because he said he's come to dedicate his life, even "his body" to protect his community and be a positive role model for his 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.
"I'm willing to sacrifice by body to be out here, you know?" he said.
Edwards works with CeaseFire as a program manager, is a community activist with local nonprofit ONE Northside and has organized camping trips with a nearby church that promotes restorative justice ideals, he said.
Over the years, he's visited cities near and far from Chicago to speak to others about gang violence and has organized back to school drives for both Rogers Park and Evanston, he said.
He said he's looking forward to a speedy recovery and expects to be mostly physically healed in three or four months, but the emotional toll can be high.
"People no matter what want to label this community as gang-infested, and that's not the case," he said. "I just know that I don't want my kids to have to go through some of this stuff, that's why I do what I do — and that's why it's sort of a last cry of emotions because it's like I'm going my due, but I wish people would get over that structural racism part."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: