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Self-worth Key to Ending Violence

21 February 2023

By Marketer Ash
Pastor, Chicago, Illinois

I am the pastor of Brainerd, Community of Christ, in Chicago, Illinois, South Side. You know, in a high-poverty and high-crime area… which used to be a beautiful neighborhood, but things evolve, right? I have to say this, and… while I am the pastor there, I grew up in the community, but I no longer live in the community.

So, my experience of violence, it’s been more of working with the members and the community that we serve, watching them go through different layers and levels of violence. I have to say, for Brainerd, though, however, we’ve not lost anyone to violence. I’m thanking God for that. We’ve not lost a youth. We’ve not lost a member. We’ve not lost anyone. I’d say all of the members live within the city. So, violence from that perspective, has not touched us.

Where it has touched us is when we watch just people of our race and our culture go through certain things. You cannot walk around with blinders on. I like…the statement about you have to be a part of the environment to really understand what the real needs are and what the real responses should be. I also want to share with you—as far as the congregation—how we have, looked at nonviolence from a pragmatic approach.

I want to say that is, you know, I don’t know if everyone is aware, for the summer of last year, we had the Boys & Girls Club house the summer camp at Brainerd at the heart of pandemic. We were able to give youth a safe space for the summer where they wouldn’t have had that, um, if they had been exposed to certain levels of violence.

Pre-COVID, we partnered with the police district and the schools and the politicians and the faith communities. We went out and we did peace walks, you know, nonviolent peace walks. The last time we had the riots on the South Side when there was, you know, looting and things like that, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with 87th, if you live in Chicago, all the stores like Walmart, Jewel-Osco, Walgreens, they would just, you know, be destroyed.

I think that is the way you deal with nonviolence because until people feel empowered or valued and feel their self-worth, and have ways to survive, we will always experience some level of it because people, you know, it’s self-preservation.

We did a prayer vigil with all the pastors within that district. And we began to have conversations with the local vendors. Our Walmart now has a training program. They’re offering training programs for the community. It was decided that we would no longer allow people to come into our community and not give us something for it. You know, we were the consumers, and we needed to have something that was going to be invested back into the community. So, also people can have, health care visits. I think there’s like a doctor or clinic, right next to the Jewel now, so, where people can go and receive some kind of health care, blood pressure checks, you know, testing for diabetes, things like that.

That’s one aspect where we’re dealing with it from a church, from the church’s perspective, and we partner with the local school called Mahalia Jackson, and it’s predominantly African American. Last fall we bought school supplies for all the children in the school so the kids could have adequate school supplies and can be educated. But that’s from the church’s perspective.

I work for a nonprofit, and it’s been doing this for fifty-plus years. We help people who have been criminally justice-involved get back into society. And we do that by offering wraparound services. So, right now we’re partnering with Department of Health to offer programs to young adults where they will be able to get everything met…get training, they’re able to have a doctor’s visit, have a mental health assessment.

They’re able to have housing…we’re partnering with them to acquire buildings so that we can have affordable housing and things like that because it has just been proven that one way to address nonviolence is to deal with the social determinants of health and injustice and inequities certain communities.

I think that is the way you deal with nonviolence because until people feel empowered or valued and feel their self-worth, and have ways to survive, we will always experience some level of it because people, you know, it’s self-preservation. At some point, people want to preserve themselves. And, so, for me, I believe, that’s the best way to peace. And it’s not also to have the answers for people because you can’t have the answers for people. People have to come into their own understanding of what their answers should be for themselves.

This article begins a series of collected comments from seven Perspectives on Violence videos shared and taped in the Nonviolence Discussion sessions across Community of Christ fields. Visit YouTube to watch the videos.

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