Grassroots organizations in Chicago are established and led by a mixture of local leaders, empowered residents, students of color, and working families. The community based leadership allows the organizations to get to the heart of local issues and work directly with their neighborhood institutions, including schools.
Similarly, elsewhere in the United States students, people of color, concerned parents, and law enforcement officers are organizing to work against the negative impacts of neighborhood violence. In addition to Chicago, this website explores such movements in New York City, Atlanta, Denver, and multiple cities in Connecticut.
Due to the extreme amounts of violence which take place in Chicago, there are many grassroots organizations in the windy city that specifically focus on creating safer neighborhoods and combating existing neighborhood violence, often with the goal to help youth and students. A sample of such programs are the:
- Youth as Resources (at the Chicago Area Project): Promotes Anti-Violence and Youth Leadership programs
- BUILD‘s Intervention Program: Designed to reduce youth violence in targeted high schools, includes gang/violence remediation
- Action Now‘s Violence Prevention Campaign: Includes meetings with local Police Commanders and criminal justice reform
- The Blocks Together Youth Council: Stands against the School to Prison Pipeline, engages students in the fight for justice
- #GoodKidsMadCity (at VOYCE): Investment in youth employment, wrap-around services for trauma-informed staff in schools, and mental heath support
Of the grassroots organizations I found elsewhere in the United States, many were focused on ending the School to Prison Pipeline instead of being focused on neighborhood violence and its effects. This could be because of a smaller amount of violent crime happening outside of Chicago. Programs aiming to combat the school to prison pipeline include:
- Social Network Analysis (at Project Longevity): A mathematical method to help identify high risk individuals to engage with community-based interventions
- End the School to Jail Track (at Padres & Jovenes Unidos): Find solutions, hold schools accountable, and empower communities
- Advocacy Training Workshops (at Gwinnett SToPP): Designed to empower parents with information and tools to be better advocates for their children
- The Parent Action Committee School Safety Campaign: Advocates for a positive school climate, increased social and emotional supports, and restorative discipline
Grassroots organizations affect the communities they serve in a variety of ways. From spreading information and raising awareness to increasing student achievement to helping enact political change, grassroots organizations’ work is effective. Below are a few ways the organizations in Chicago and throughout the United States have created change:
- Increasing student attendance and increasing knowledge on anger management and conflict resolution (Chicago Area Project)
- Implementation of positive out-of-school-time programs in at-risk communities during after-school hours, weekends, and vacations (BUILD)
- Community-led training for School Safety Agents educated over 1,000 school safety officers in NYC on the consequences of school-based arrests and the positive impact of restorative justice (Parent Action Committee)
- Passage of the Smart School Discipline Law in Denver, Colorado, which requires schools to implement strategies to minimize student exposure to the juvenile/criminal justice systems (Padres & Jovenes Unidos)
Obstacles faced by grassroots organizations in Chicago and elsewhere in the United States are similar. Finding a way to keep the momentum of community organizing going can be difficult as manpower is needed. When parents are working full time jobs in addition to working for grassroots organizations, time becomes an issue. Further, dealing with the glacial pace of governmental progress must be frustrating. Similarly, in Chicago specifically, seeing the continual existence of such immense amounts of violent crime is disheartening for any grassroots activist trying to fight against such violence.*
Impact on Participating Individuals:
Individuals who participate in grassroots organizing, especially those who identify as unheard populations, is an empowering learning experience. Potential learned skills include*:
- Increased leadership skills for those who organize meetings, lead discussions, and recruit volunteers;
- Greater confidence in advocating for oneself and one’s beliefs;
- Broader knowledge on an individual’s community, it’s members, and it’s issues; and
- Increased awareness for other’s opinions/concerns.
*Based on speculation and class discussions from Urban Ed.