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Bronzeville Church Looks To Middle East For Tools To Heal From Violence

By Sam Cholke | September 21, 2016 6:27am | Updated on September 23, 2016 11:41am
 The Rev. Chris Harris has turned to the Middle East to look for methods to help Chicagoans heal from the violence plaguing the city.
The Rev. Chris Harris has turned to the Middle East to look for methods to help Chicagoans heal from the violence plaguing the city.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

BRONZEVILLE — Bronzeville pastor Chris Harris thinks the South Side needs a lot of healing and is looking to war zones in the Middle East for methods to cope with the violence.

Harris, pastor of Bright Start Church of God in Christ, unveiled his vision for the Bronzeville Dream Center four years ago and has spent much of the intervening time trying to figure out how to adapt trauma counseling methods used in Israel to Chicago. He said his idea was inspired by a visit to Israel in 2012.

Harris and his partners are now ready to put these methods to use, and they're changing the name of their venture to The Urban Resilience Network, or TURN Center. 

 IIT students have designed a new home for the TURN Center once its  counseling programs get established.
IIT students have designed a new home for the TURN Center once its counseling programs get established.
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Courtesy of Bright Star Church

South Side faith leaders will be trained in how to guide people through the trauma of losing a loved one to violence.

Rodney Carter Jr., director of the center, said counselors from Natal Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War have come to Chicago twice to figure out how to adapt their methods here.

He said they’ve learned that they need to have counselors, often the same counselor, available to people for long stretches of time, sometimes longer than two years.

Meanwhile, studies from researchers at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University working with the center have mapped out the scope of the issues the center must grapple with. Researchers found that as many as one-third of sixth-graders in Bronzeville show symptoms of clinical depression and 1 in 10 Bronzeville high school sophomores have been arrested or carried a handgun.

The church already has after-school and job placement programs, but Harris said it's time to bring in the counseling element at the beginning of next year.

He said he’s trying to raise $900,000 to fund the program.

Harris said the next step will be to buy the building next to the current offices to turn into a counseling center. He estimated that project would cost more than $4 million.

But Harris has made sure the runway is all set for the program to take off, and Illinois Institute of Technology students already have designed the center, complete with classrooms, counseling areas and a third-floor restaurant and banquet hall.

He said the name change was part of that growth of the program and not associated with another program that was also trying to raise money under the name Bronzeville Dream Center.

Bronzeville Dream Center founder Beyonca Johnson said Tuesday she talked to Harris, but they were not able to come to an agreement that would have allowed both to continue using a variation of the name.

Johnson said her own Dream Center at 1013 E. 43rd St. is self-funded and serves about 200 kids a month in its after-school programs.

She said the confusion over the name had caused problems for both organizations as they tried to raise money. Johnson’s center is trying to raise $50,000 to pay eight months of back rent. Johnson’s Dream Center as of Tuesday had raised $27,222 toward its $50,000 goal on GoFundMe.

Harris said he didn’t want to fight with another organization in the neighborhood.

In a speech to supporters announcing the name change Tuesday night at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd., Harris said the new name came to him through a message from God during a trip to Israel.

“When I went back to Israel this year, the Lord gave me the name,” Harris said. “The Lord said, ‘Turn.’”

The TURN Center will start training clergy to become counselors in the next month.

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