PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday January 14th, 2013, 12:11pm

Community Group Brings Together Politicians, Religious and Community Leaders In A Call For Social Justice

Busloads of Chicago and suburban residents filed into the pews of a South Side church Sunday for an afternoon remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. and called on a dozen elected officials to join their push for social and economic justice in the area.

Busloads of Chicago and suburban residents filed into the pews of a South Side church Sunday for an afternoon remembrance of Martin Luther King Jr. and called on a dozen elected officials to join their push for social and economic justice in the area.

Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, or SOUL, supporters and faith-based leaders demanded a long-awaited arts and recreation center in Bronzeville, restoration of Chicago’s 31st Street bus route and a Cook County land bank.

“I know what it’s like to be a boy with limited means with no place to play when the weather gets cold,” said Andrew Lyke (pictured), director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s office for black Catholics. “I know what happens when kids don’t have positive activities to occupy themselves.”

A recreational center for Bronzeville’s youth could be an antidote for the area’s crime, said Lyke, who grew up in the community’s former Ida B. Wells Homes.

He said he wants future Bronzeville generations to have more safe places to play than when he was a child.

Other neighborhoods in the city have large, state of the art field houses with multiple gyms and an indoor pool.

But there are no such field houses from the Loop to 55th Street and southeast of the Dan Ryan Expressway, he said.

On the other hand, eight field houses are located west of the Dan Ryan Expressway to Western Avenue, Lyke added.

“So not only does Bronzeville need a field house, it is a matter of equity that we have one.”

Ald. Will Burns (4th) and William Towns, assistant vice president of neighborhood initiatives at the University of Chicago, both committed to making the estimated $20 million field house with an arts center, indoor pool, two gyms and an exercise room a reality.

“Our young people need something positive to do and a place they can be safe and off the streets after school,” said Burns, who agreed to set up a community stakeholder’s meeting about the field house within 60 days.

There was also overwhelming support for the former 31st Street bus route, which ran from Little Village to the Museum Campus, to start up service. The city stopped the route in 1998.

C. W. Chang with the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community said thousands of residents from Chinatown and Bridgeport, among other neighborhoods, struggle to get to school, work and around town because there’s no 31st Street bus.

“It would help our residents and spark economic growth in this area,” Chang said. 

Ald. James Balcer (11th), State Rep. Esther Golar (D-Chicago) and State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) all vowed to help get the bus running again.

“I was at the CTA meetings with you,” Balcer said to the Rev. Tom Gaulke of First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, who called on the three lawmakers for action. “I will continue to stand with you and with the organizations. I know the seniors. I know the school children.”

During Blacer’s one-minute time allowance to respond, he also took the opportunity to bring up another issue — a ban on assault weapons.

“We need to ban assault weapons in the United States,” he said, stirring up the audience.

He quickly apologized for changing the topic, and affirmed he’d work for the bus route.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle later shared the county’s plan to start a land bank, an economic development tool designed to acquire, hold and transfer property for reuse in order to combat vacant properties in Cook County.

There’s legislation pending before the Cook County Board that will create the land bank, she said.

“I will soon appoint a board of directors to govern that entity and ask them to work with municipalities, the city of Chicago and organizations such as SOUL on strategies to ensure that we are effective in meeting our goals and turning around the housing crisis that’s devastated our county,” Preckwinkle said.

One of the aldermen in support of the bank, Pat Dowell (3rd), said the bank makes “perfect sense” for the county and her South Side ward in particular.

“I have 3,000 vacant lots in the 3rd Ward, and this is a tool to help us catalyze development,” she said.

State representatives were also called on to find ways to end tax loopholes in the state and ensure corporations are paying their fair share in taxes.

“When we cut back on Medicaid, when we cut back on social services, when we cut back on investments in job training, they hit the folks in the 26th district on the South Side of Chicago first,” said State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago). “We understand that we need to create a great business climate in the city, but we also believe that we do that by investing in people.”

Later, two hopeful candidates for the 2nd congressional district seat, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) and former state representative Robin Kelly, made their case for bringing more federal funding to the South Side if elected.

Betty Ervin-Robinson with Riverdale Organizing for Change asked how the candidates would fight for the South Side and suburban residents as a Washington lawmaker.

“We have a jobs crisis. We have a foreclosure crisis. We have an educational crisis and also a crime crisis in our community,” she said. “I’m here to tell you the real crisis is corporations and the wealthy.”

Beale said if elected, he would be a cosponsor of the federal Inclusive Prosperity Act, also known as the “Robin Hood tax,” which would tax the sale of stocks, bonds and derivatives sold by Wall Street firms to provide billions of dollars in funding for communities.

“We will use that money to build our third airport,” the South Side alderman said. “We can use that money to extend the Red Line. We can use that money to upgrade the Red Line.”

Other elected officials at the event, held at West Point Missionary Baptist Church, included: Alds. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Leslie Hairston (5th), Michelle Harris (8th) and Roderick Sawyer (6th) and State Reps. William Davis (D-Hazel Crest) and Marcus Evans (D-Chicago).  



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