by Maureen Kelleher of New Communities Program
Little Village‘s annual “Healing the Hood” community celebration – established three years ago in an effort to stem gang violence – drew its biggest crowd ever earlier this summer.
More than 2,000 people enjoyed the music, children’s games, basketball and lotería (bingo) at 28th Street and Ridgeway Avenue. They also visited booths staffed by businesses and nonprofits from Little Village and beyond, all spreading the word about services to help the neighborhood.
Festival site Ridgeway Avenue has been a flashpoint for gang-related shootings.
Originally, the neighborhood’s traveling summer basketball league, Hoops in the Hood , had been scheduled to play its opening games the night of June 13. But they were postponed because of the threat of bad weather and rescheduled during the Healing the Hood festival.
Youth and teens attending the event formed teams and signed up to play along with the pre-registered league teams, keeping the two street courts busy for hours. “Now we’re going to do this every year,” said Julian Lazalde of the Little Village Community Development Corp. , NCP lead agency for the community.
“It goes beyond the typical block party,” said entrepreneur Jesus Iniguez.
At one of those stands, Negrete picked up information on how to apply to the police academy. Later that afternoon he was planning to play basketball with Hoops in the Hood.
Overall, he said, Healing the Hood has helped bring down the walls of fear that separate parts of the neighborhood. “It helps to bring people into other neighborhoods where they can’t go,” he said.
In a happy accident, “Healing the Hood” ended up coinciding with B-Ball on the Block — and in the future, this will be no coincidence.
Ridgeway Avenue, a dividing line between neighborhood gangs, had been an uncomfortably predictable site for gun violence when local organizations started Healing the Hood three years ago.
The groups hoped that attracting large numbers of people to the street for a festival that emphasized Little Village’s strengths would help allay the senseless shootings.
The third annual event featured loteria (bingo) games for children and families.
As partners, Romero and Lopez also bring together the two halves of Little Village. Romero grew up west of Ridgeway, and Lopez was raised on the neighborhood’s east side.
They well remember the gang boundary Ridgeway represented in their youth, and saw signs of hope that that wall was beginning to crumble. “I think it’s a very good thing for the community,” Romero said of Healing the Hood. “They’re starting to bring people together.”
A young girl enjoys something approaching pure bliss on a summer day.
Overall, the neighborhood has gotten safer since he was a kid, Romero said. “It’s not as dangerous as back in the day.”
“I think this is the best year we’ve had, and I think it’s because we had so many young people involved in the planning,” said Henry Cervantes, a leader with SITY Ollin, the youth arm of the Telpochcalli Community Education Project . “A lot of people were out there every day in the schools and the churches.” Cervantes helped lead the grassroots outreach effort to spread word about the event.
Visitors from outside the neighborhood noticed and appreciated the youth leadership shown at the event. Entrepreneurs Jesus Iñiguez and Rolando Santoyo came from Back of the Yards and set up a booth where they sold humorous T-shirts. “We need this in Back of the Yards,” said Iñiguez. “It goes beyond the typical block party.”
That unity is what it will take to build peace in Little Village, said young organizer Cervantes. “We made a strong statement that counteracting violence is not an organization’s job. It’s a community effort.”
To learn more about this LISC neighborhood and 15 others, visit New Communities Program .