Healing the Hood
Principle: You can't do it alone
By Brendan Crain
For one weekend at the start of the summer, Healing the Hood takes over an intersection on Ridgeway Avenue in Little Village, a hub of the Latino community on Chicago's southwest side, and fills it with a community service street fair, games, food, and a stage for cultural and anti-violence focused performances. The location is no accident; Ridgeway is an infamous boundary line in the community, dividing Little Village into east and west sides, and is a regular site of gang violence – making street life for residents more ominous than enticing. As Michael Rodriguez, the lead organizer of Healing the Hood, notes, the intersection where the event was held this year is in the heart of the Chicago Police Department's Beat 1031, which saw the most shootings of any beat in the city in May 2009.
Rodriguez works for Enlace, formerly known as the Little Village Community Development Corporation, which was one of the key players in starting Healing the Hood four years ago. The event is part of Enlace's efforts to engage the community and prevent kids from getting involved with the gangs that have torn the neighborhood apart. "Healing the Hood is part of a comprehensive effort to bring people together," he notes. "It's not where we start, and it's not where we end."
Indeed, Enlace (which is the Spanish word for "embrace”) is one of several organizations that come together to make Healing the Hood happen. The list of organizing groups also includes the Rauner YMCA’s Street Interventions program, the Violence Preventive Collaborative, La Villita Church, and B-Ball on the Block, among others.
In fact, Healing the Hood serves as the kickoff for B-Ball on the Block’s summer basketball tournament series, which stages weekly games in the streets of Little Village and Lawndale to the north. B-Ball organizer Robert Castaneda describes Healing the Hood as "a great way to start the summer by acknowledging that there's a problem in the 'hood, while getting people to see there are people in the community trying to do something about it." B-Ball games, which are so popular that Castaneda actually receives requests from some groups to shut down their blocks to host games, offer kids a reason to cross lines that gangs have made them afraid to cross -- and provides a safe environment for them to do so. "Kids from one side of the neighborhood come to the other and realize, 'Hey, this is just like my neighborhood," Castaneda explains.
While it only happens once a year, Healing the Hood provides that same opportunity not just for kids, but for everyone in Little Village. This year's festival featured a community services fair featuring local nonprofit groups that filled almost a third of the event area; many of the organizations that set up tables worked with Enlace and B-Ball on the Block to organize the event. Diana Cadalbert runs the children's programs for La Villita Church; listening to her describe how her congregation became involved with organizing the first Healing the Hood event, it becomes clear that this festival is about much more than the immediate space in which it takes place. "A lot of people in the different groups involved knew each other before Healing the Hood. There were members of our church on the boards of Enlace, B-Ball on the Block...we all care about the neighborhood, and recognize that it's much more effective [to work] together."
At its core, Healing the Hood is about bringing people together in a shared public space, and showing residents from both sides of a neighborhood divided by crime that there is a community around them. It is a symbolic event by, for and about the community. The message the event sends is clear: Little Village is a place defined not by gang violence, its organizers insist, but by a growing group of involved and informed neighbors. And they're taking back their streets.