Weekly photographer Sebastián Hidalgo attended the last Increase the Peace campout—youth-led anti-violence demonstrations across the South Side—of the summer. On August 4, dozens gathered outside of St. Michael’s Church in Back of the Yards for games, music, and food to celebrate the community center’s reopening after over ten years.
This photo essay reveals that even at events designed to bring peace to the neighborhood, conflict is still present. But it also offers a vision—a literal glimpse, through a hole in a door—of a model of peace that, for example, doesn’t involve police, whose presence at the event is mentioned in the captions but not photographed. The essay concludes with a bus ride home, but the work necessary to bring true peace to the community lays yet ahead. The Weekly also interviewed leaders of the Resurrection Project’s Increase the Peace campaign for our 2017 Interview Issue.
Youth leaders partake in a ribbon cutting ceremony for the reopening of St. Michael’s Community Center, which had been closed in the early 2000s reportedly due to increased criminal activity on the premises.
Inside, a family from the neighborhood gives away homemade cake. Tensions were high as rival gang members prepared to play a game of basketball. CPD officers on patrol paced in and out of the community center, offering a watchful eye on the group.
Berto Aguayo, lead organizer of Increase the Peace, tries to mediate a dispute between the rival gangs after threats of violence were made on the court. “We’re all trying to concentrate as organizers to bring both sides of the neighborhood together,” Aguayo said, “but the wounds are so fresh—sometimes things can’t work out.”
After both gangs agree to leave amicably, organizers offer rides back home as a safety precaution. Chris, 16, right, is a Back of the Yards resident and Increase the Peace trainee. “For me [Increase The Peace] is something special,” Chris said, “because here in Back of the Yards, we don’t have anything. It’s good to try to make the community a better place—you know, no shootings, no drugs, just peace. That’s what we been doing.”
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