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Gunshots Near 'Peace House' Bring Neighbors Together, Mark Change On Block

By  Andrea V. Watson and Kelly Bauer | September 8, 2017 5:51am 

 I Grow Chicago's Peace House is a safe space for the West Englewood community.
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ENGLEWOOD — When 10 gunshots went off in the middle of the day last week, children and adults at I Grow Chicago, a community nonprofit, hit the ground. 

Others outside in the 6400 block of South Honore Street also took cover.

But then, something remarkable happened, residents and workers say. 

The kids and adults on the block came back outside. Many came over to I Grow Chicago's Peace House, at 6402 S. Honore, to talk about what happened, share emotions and process the event. 

Since then, residents and workers on the block refused to live in fear. The group's co-executive director, Erin Vogel, even decided to continue with her wedding, for 40 guests, that had been planned for that Friday, two days after the shooting.

"It was absolutely beautiful," Vogel said about the small gathering. "After getting home and processing everything, I bawled. I felt so much love and appreciation, and the entire event just showed the love and beauty of Englewood."

Peace House, which opened four years ago, offers youth mentoring, yoga, gardening and arts, as well as GED classes and women's groups.

Before the organization moved into the neighborhood, it wasn't unusual for people in the area to let fear keep them indoors, the group said.

"After a shooting, everyone would stay inside in fear, not talking to each other, just trying to stay alive," the group posted on Facebook.

Quentin Mables, who grew up on the block, recalled that many residents didn't know each other very well.

"Some neighbors didn't like to come out," he recalled.

Around 3 p.m. Wednesday, Vogel was conducting a trauma and yoga training with Mables, who is the group's co-executive director, when they all heard gunshots.

"It sounded like 20 rounds went off, and everyone hit the ground. Kids were yelling, 'Get down,'" Vogel recalled.

There were two 3-year-olds outside when the shooting started, plus children inside, Vogel said. Some young men covered the kids with their own bodies to protect them from stray bullets, Vogel recalled.

No one was injured in the shooting, and by the time police arrived, the shooters had fled, said Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Brandi Wright, who added that a police report was not filed.

When the shooting stopped this time, the block didn't cower in fear. Neighbors came outside to check on everyone. They took deep breaths and expressed their frustrations with the gun violence, Vogel said.

"They brought their children to the Peace House so they could play and process what happened," the group said in its Facebook post. "No longer do people stay inside."

"The adults weren't numb to the pain this time. They felt deeply that this shouldn't be happening on our block. We held space for sadness, anger, disbelief, relief to be alive. ...

"When you read the news, a shooting looks like a shooting. But there is tangible difference in how we are able to heal in the aftermath. This is progress. This is what it means to have neighbors."

I Grow Chicago decided to continue with its weekly schedule, which, in addition to the wedding reception, included a back-to-school event Saturday.

Vogel said the situation is night and day compared to even two years ago.

"When I first started, there were neighbors who didn't come out or know each other, but now they do. There's a connection now."

Mables agreed that there had been a sea change. Neighbors "open doors on Sunday and invite people in for potlucks," he said. "This shows you the steps we have taken as a community. It didn't happen overnight. It took time. This house is a pillar, but this is just the first step in the right direction."

Fifteenth Ward Ald. Raymond Lopez has partnered with and supported I Grow Chicago for almost six years. He said there has been a lot of grass-roots rebuilding in West Englewood, and he credits the organization's founder for being a catalyst.

"I've seen improvement of the overall climate of that block and surrounding blocks," he said.

This recent incident isn't the norm on the block anymore, said Lopez, who blames outsiders for bringing trouble to the neighborhood.

"The hope is to address this head on before it gets out of hand any further," he said.

He said the way neighbors came together after the shooting is a testament of the impact I Grow has had on the block.

"Change is never easy; we will have setbacks," Lopez said. "But this highlighted to us that the neighborhood doesn't want to go back to the days of gangs, drugs and shootings. Instead of hiding, people came out in droves to make sure everyone was OK."