In Chicago, much of the organizing is done by adult leaders who work to build community within their neighborhood in efforts to prevent violence and support at-risk youth. The grassroots organizers include church leaders, parents of victims of homicides, and larger organizations like a hospital and youth centers. Nationally, much of the organizing revolves around adult mentors and community building within the community, again targeting at-risk youth. The programs assign mentors either in or outside school, and work to develop character and improve educational attainment. Overall, the goal of the organizations is to reduce the violence within the neighborhood.
The goal of reducing violence within the neighborhood corresponds closely with a desire to improve the urban education that students are receiving in Chicago. The presence of violence and gangs has severe consequences on the ability for students to learn – both because it creates an unsafe learning environment (which students may not even want to enter), and because exposure to violence has detrimental psychological effects on students. Any activism that counters gangs and violence, such as the local and national grassroots organizations, are thus simultaneously working to improve the neighborhood and the quality of all institutions – schools especially – within it.
The fact that gangs and violence stem from unavoidable systemic oppression is a large obstacle facing organizers. Grassroots organizations can do all they want to provide mentorship, support programs, and other amazing services. However, the fact that the most at-risk neighborhoods and people are disproportionately minority communities that have been hyper-criminalized and disinvested in by most of society, leads to conditions that are conducive to violence. Because gangs and violence are so institutionalized, they also face a major obstacle of breaking the cycle, and working to eliminate violence once and for all.
However, the grassroots organizations have had tangible impacts on the communities they serve. Most of the organizations provide mentorship services, and although those services cannot reach all the kids who need it, for those who are involved – with the Chicago Area Project, Paving the Way, Youth Violence and Safety Prevention at the YMCA, and more – the mere act of investing in a kid and working to help provide them a safer and healthier life path is a meaningful act. Additionally, organizations like Chicago Survivors and La Rabida Hospital provide significant support services for those who are exposed to violence and trauma, which is so prevalent within communities (both with children and survivors of victims of violence).
In all, although there are many obstacles faced in working with such a large and institutionalized issue such as gangs and neighborhood violence, grassroots organizations are essential building blocks towards a solution. Each one individually can only serve small portions of the population, but taken as a whole, grassroots organizations are powerful supporting and advocating institutions within communities working to make them better and safer places.