ENGLEWOOD — A private meeting has been set between the artist who erected a controversial memorial for the city's gun victims in an Englewood lot and the leader of a group that has opposed the display.
Asiaha Butler, president of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood organization, said she spoke with Greg Zanis on Monday and agreed to meet with him Feb. 21 in an effort to reach common ground. Butler said she will work on setting up a larger community meeting with the artist in Englewood after their discussion.
Zanis, a West Side native who now lives in Aurora, put 44 crosses on the lot at 5500 S. Bishop St. last month to represent gunshot victims in Chicago. Twenty more crosses were placed in the ground Sunday at a special vigil where families of some murder victims attended. He might take the crosses on the road, too, to call more attention to the victims of the city's violence.
"I tried to put a face on the crosses with the pictures to make it feel like somebody died, not just a number," Zanis said.
A rose was also placed above each cross.
But many residents of Englewood have objected to the display, saying it focuses on death and degrades the community. An anti-violence group known as Mothers Against Senseless Killings, or the ''Army of Moms," had threatened to tear the crosses down.
"I really want to understand what his intent is," Butler said Monday. "Also get him to understand the work we do and how this impacts that work."
She said that this memorial affects those who lost people to the violence as well as the ones working to make the community safer.
The additional crosses weren't a welcome sight for Butler, she said.
"It's safe to say that [the association] doesn't want this display on any other vacant lots in Englewood, but we definitely understand the sensitivity of the parents who lost their loved ones," Butler said.
The association will work with Mothers Against Senseless Killings to find the best and most sensitive approach when speaking to the victims' families. No date has been set for that meeting.
"It's a very emotional and delicate conversation," Butler said.
Zanis said he's open to hearing the community's thoughts and looks forward to meeting with Butler.
"It's important that we try to work together," he said.
The memorial will travel to Northern Illinois University in Dekalb Tuesday, which marks the nine-year anniversary of a mass shooting at the school. Zanis said that a lot of Chicago students attend the university. The crosses will remain there for a week.
Zanis said he also wants to take it to cities like Atlanta and Los Angeles hopefully next month because he wants to raise awareness of what's going on in Chicago with the violence. He plans to bring the crosses back to the lot despite the concerns that have been raised about the memorial.
"We got to figure out some solutions, and the only way to do that is to make sure everybody knows what's going on in Chicago," he said. "We have to make a big deal about this, and the visual would be phenomenal — not cramped up in a little lot."