CHICAGO — A student who invited the man behind the controversial crosses of Englewood to Northern Illinois University for a prayer vigil Friday said he did so because many students are impacted by the city's violence.
The crosses, which mark each murder in the city in 2017, were moved from a lot in the 5500 block of South Bishop Street and taken to NIU earlier this week.
NIU senior Trenton Hiley, 22, said that he invited the creator of the crosses, retired carpenter Greg Zanis, to campus.
Hiley is the director of events and programming for Northern's Black Male Initiative group. He's also vice president of the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi Epsilon Omicron chapter. He said he extended the invitation because he felt that a lot of students on campus have been affected by the gun violence in Chicago.
"He's so passionate and genuine about what's going on there," Hiley said of Zanis. "It's hitting close to home so we wanted to show others how NIU is affected as well."
Even though Hiley is from far north surburban Zion, his father is a Roseland native and his mother grew up on Chicago's West Side, he said.
"A lot of my close friends and family back home are experiencing it," he said of the gun violence.
The vigil is 3 p.m. Friday near the Holmes Student Center at NIU in DeKalb.
After the vigil, the crosses will return to Englewood, said Zanis, a West Side native who now lives in west suburban Aurora.
Zanis' memorial has generated some controversy in Chicago, with some likening the display of crosses in a South Side yard to a cemetery symbolizing death and a lack of hope in the community.
Some have even threatened to remove the display, but Zanis said he intends to keep making crosses for every person murdered in Chicago this year. He built more than 750 crosses last year and gave them to victims' family members.
Zanis hopes to bring the crosses to Los Angeles and other cities, he said, though details on those trips are not available.
He has built crosses for victims of other mass shootings, including five students killed in the Feb. 14, 2008, shooting at NIU.