Sometimes, all it takes to start community change is a cup of coffee. When the West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders coalition hosts their bi-monthly Parent Cafes, it is evident that parents and youth sharing a conversation over a symbolic cup of Joe are closing the intergenerational gap in this west side Chicago community. That, in turn, opens the door to community mobilization to reduce its underage drinking rates.
The coalition held a number of events this month for National Alcohol Awareness Month such as the Parent Cafés, community forum, and a rally. The rally brought together local politicians such as Congressman Danny K. Davis, residents and activists from different sectors for a Campaign to Reduce Underage Drinking, Substance Abuse and Senseless Violence in the West Garfield Park Community. The coalition rallied in front of a liquor store. The owner of the store, Jerry Stender, participated in the rally, as well.
Engaging business owners like Stender is what coalition leader, the Rev. Walter Amir Jones, said is one of the aspects that contributes to its success.
“We are not here to shut down anyone’s business. We want to build our community support system and get a community that works together from whatever nationality they may come from. No matter where someone comes from, we all want our kids to be safe and drug-free,” Jones said.
Since the coalition formed about seven years ago, it has sought to address the issue of retailers selling alcohol to minors.
The Illinois Department of Human Services’ Illinois Youth Survey (IYS) reported last year that middle school students in the Garfield Park community were drinking alcoholic energy drinks – 57 percent for 6th graders and 60 percent for 8th graders. The coalition has been addressing this issue by educating the retailers who sell these products.
Through the strong relationships in which the coalition has fostered in Garfield Park, liquor store owners have voluntarily prevented panhandling and loitering at their store fronts, reminded other business owners of obeying ordinances, reduced sales to minors and have become coalition members.
The West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders are a Drug-Free Community Program and CADCA member supported by Fathers Who Care, a local non-profit. The purpose of the coalition is to create opportunities via programs, activities and events to help direct youth towards positive alternatives to violence as well as teaching them how to become productive citizens through positive civic engagement.
Violence prevention is where the coalition got its start, Jones said. “Then, people started to look to us and it just grew from there.”
Jones said another strategy that has worked well for their coalition is to empower youth to be active in its Youth Leadership Council, which plans the coalition’s activities and events to address the key needs and concerns facing their peers and community.
“Our young folks have hit the streets and have seen how they can work together to take back their community. The youth have actually told their parents that they created this reality and now the (youth) must deal with it,” Jones added.
“Talking to each other is the first step to address certain ills and not be confrontational, and also listening is important. If we are enlightened, we can empower…We are a group that is here to stay so the young folks can take it to the next level,” Jones said.
Continuing that dialog, whether it’s at a Parent Café, at a rally, or just conducting daily coalition business, is at the crux of a successful coalition, Jones said.
“There is power in communicating with each other and respecting each other’s’ opinions,” he added. “We could sit and point the finger all day long, but in our reality, we choose to rally together and literally save some lives.”