Though violence often makes the headlines, honoring youth and adult leaders of youth groups and programs was the focus for news and celebration as more than 200 people gathered at The DuSable Museum of African-American History on May 23 for the annual “Heroes in the ‘Hood” reception and awards ceremony. Hosted by founding sponsors GO Airport Express, CHICAGO CRUSADER NEWSPAPER and The DuSable Museum of African-American History teens nominated in both individual and group categories and adults in the “Stop the Violence” category were celebrated by the Mistress of Ceremony, Emmy-award winning Dorothy Tucker, CBS-TV News; Alderman Willie B. Cochran; Honored Role Model Larry Huggins, CEO, Riteway Construction and other community leaders and youth from across the city of Chicago.
From creating restorative justice programs and organizing peace walls to volunteering to mentor younger children and helping to feed and clothe the homeless, teens who were nominated by principals, youth counselors, teachers, aldermen and other community leaders cheered for every nominee throughout the entire ceremony In addition, it was the first time that an adult group was nominated for the “Stop the Violence” award. This group, Purpose Over Pain, comprises parents who have lost children due to violence, and are volunteering to provide “Safe Saturday programs” for community youth 10-18, in order to help negate them from becoming involved in violence. This group was awarded $1,000 and an afternoon at a Chicago White Sox game along with the youth in their program.
Larry Huggins, founder, Annual Chicago College Football Classic and president and CEO, Riteway-Huggins Construction Services was given recognition as the “Honored Role Model” for community service and the work ethic he exemplifies. “Respect is one of the greatest keys to success,“ Huggins said in his message to the audience. “Respect your parents, your teachers, your elders and even respect one another,” Huggins went on to say. He also donated more than 10 bicycles and 60 tickets to the upcoming Football Classic game for first place winning “Heroes.”
“Our business and civic leaders need to acknowledge and support our youth and those who volunteer to serve them,” said John McCarthy, president, GO Airport Express. Other awards’ presenters included Amani Connelly, Director Educational Services and Public Programs, DuSable Museum; Dorothy R. Leavell, publisher, The Chicago Crusader Newspaper and Susan Peters, manager of Community Relations, University of Chicago Hospitals.
First place in the Group Teen Hero category was awarded to WOODLAWN VOICES & VISIONS, teen scholars who have worked to produce several films that elevate the experiences of South Side residents in Chicago. These high school students produced films on food deserts, police abuse of power, and highlighted Woodlawn residents by using their skills as social justice filmmakers to shape public opinion about the human condition of African Americans on the South Side
The second place group was the Children’s Home & Aid RISE (Restoring Individuals through Supportive Environments). This program is comprised of teen boys 14-18 who worked over 16 weeks in 2015 to help with food drives and giveaways, benefitting more than 100 families in Englewood.
Nash Community Center Teen Leadership, was the third place winner. This group of teens visited and volunteered for veterans at the VA hospital and participated in collecting shoes for Shoes for Soles charity event. Other nominated groups of note included KENWOOD ACA- DEMY CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT TEEN CLUB, HAAS PARK TEEN PROGRAM, BUILD YOUTH COUNCIL, SOUTH SIDE HELP CENTER “CREATE” PROGRAM, and CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT SOUTH REGION TEEN LEADERSHIP.
In the individual teen category, Christian Owens received the 3rd place award. This teen has been a prominent figure in the Restorative Justice Movement in her school. She is an active, engaged Peer Conference Leader, and has been part of planning and organizing two separate Peace Rallies at the school, giving her time after school and during lunch to stop violence. She stops fights from happening by acting as a confidant, and a voice of reason when students are escalated, frustrated, and/or provoked.
Second Place winner Cameron Miller has been part of Mikva Challenge for two years and has helped with several major projects, including lobbying for tougher gun laws in Illinois. He also played a major role with the Chicago Park District and helped create the Park District app which encourages growth in users and attendees at free activities. The app had over 1 million downloads within the first month and the amount of visitors at free events tripled because of the information being more accessible.
Darneshia Ward and Paaris Winston were the First Place Heroes. Paaris has played an exemplary role as Peace Ambassador and part of the Restorative Justice program at Robeson high school. He participated in planning meetings for the annual Peace Rally served as an effective Peer Conference Leader. In several instances, Paaris literally put himself in between fighting students to stop a fight, without resorting to violence or physical harm to anyone! Alderman Cochran commented on the “focus it takes” for a teen male in Englewood to be involved as a peace ambassador.
As Dorothy Tucker read the accomplishments and service of 15- year-old Darneshia Ward, she was interrupted by cheering of other teens in the audience, who didn’t even know her. Darneshia received A’s in all her subjects at Butler Prep High School, but last year while attending Curtis she assisted with many assemblies to help create a “drama-free” zone for students awaiting major performances. Seeing the need to begin preparing underclassmen for college readiness, Darneshia started her own ACT Prep Club. She volunteered at homeless shelters by completing reading and writing activities with children and helping them learn Dr. M.L.King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” She also assisted in the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Feed My Starving Children organizations by packing and distributing food to communities where assistance is needed. In addition, Darneshia has been fundraising for a ministry called: “Jamaica for Jesus” and she has met with Senators in Springfield for “Blocks Together” – an organization that stands up for youth not being incarcerated but educated. To top it off, Darneshia is a member of the Student Government and the soccer team.
Adult leaders of youth groups in the “Stop the Violence” category included CARMEN MELTON, Nash Community Center, MEGAN KORDAS, William Brown Elementary, PURPOSE OVER PAIN, PAM- ELA JEFFERS, ASN GED Program, KISHNA TAYLOR, Kenwood Academy Chicago Park District, ALLIE (ALLISON) SZCZECINSKI, Special Education Teacher, BET- HANY BALTUTAT, Special Education Teacher, BRANDON SCOTT, A.J. WARDACH and JOE HENRY, Chicago Park District. Honorable mention was given to Ms. Dorothy Brown who volunteered on a daily basis for 6 hours a day throughout the 2015-2016 school year to help the children and young adults of Chicago’s West Side at William H. Brown Elementary replace violent behaviors with positive behaviors. She volunteers to work with students with behavior challenges, who have witnessed violence in their own homes and/or neighborhoods.
All the winning teen and adult Heroes will be provided chartered bus transportation, meal vouchers by GO Airport Express and complementary tickets from the Chicago White Sox for a game this June.
In addition to lead sponsors GO Airport Express, The Chicago Crusader Newspaper, DuSable Museum, Chicago White Sox, and WVON-AM1690, additional sponsors of this year’s event included University of Chicago Hospitals, Brookfield Zoo, AT&T, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois, and Riteway Huggins Construction.
Founded in 1993 by GO Airport Express, the Chicago Crusader Newspaper and the DuSable Museum of African-American History, the Heroes in the ‘Hood campaign recognizes and rewards outstanding teens from economically disadvantaged Chi- cago neighborhoods for their volunteer service. Since the program’s inception, more than 1,000 Chicago teens have been honored for donating their time and talent to their communities. In 2008, the program added a new award called “Stop the Violence,” which acknowledges a principal, teacher, counselor or adult community leader who has made an extraordinary effort to promote non-violence through school or other organization-based programs.