“Be safe!” “Stay away from the Southside.” These are a few examples of the many advice friends and family gave me before I left for Chicago. Up until now, most of them did not know about some of the areas I have visited because if they did, they would be very uncomfortable and worried. This feeling of uneasiness was the same experience I had when I first walked the streets in the Back of The Yards neighborhood. It is definitely a different experience seeing and hearing about something on TV and being there in person. Being on the streets has certainly taught me that the reality I know is not the only reality there is out there and that one can never fully understand a situation without being fully engrossed in it.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect the first day I did the walk with Brother Jim and Megan. From what I had been able to gather about him, I could tell he wasn’t insane so I took comfort in the fact that he wouldn’t still be doing this after all these years if it wasn’t safe. All the people we visited with that day seemed very nice and very “normal”. I use the word normal because they were just like you and I. From the horrible stories I knew about the neighborhood, I was expecting to meet a different breed of people. I guess I mostly felt this way because I didn’t and still don’t understand why anyone would do any of the things that happen in these neighborhoods. Almost all the stories I have heard are violence-related and it just made it very difficult for me to understand. I still don’t understand why the violence exists because I got the sense that all the adults that were at one time involved in the violence and drugs regret the choices they made as young men and women. I was taught as a child that violence never solves anything and from what I know so far, I still find that to be true so I just wonder why some of these people join gangs and do these horrendous acts.
One thing that I think could be a part of the answer I am looking for is poverty. I was amazed to see the living conditions of some of the people we visited. Some of these families have close to nothing and I feel for the young children that have to grow up there. In these neighborhoods, poverty can not only be seen in the houses but in the streets as well. Most of the neighborhood is covered with garbage and the place just doesn’t look pleasant. I think it is a shame to see places like that in America. We all could be doing a bit extra to get rid of poverty-stricken areas like these.
At the end of the day, I was very pleased I decided to go on the walk. I was touched by the amount of gratitude the people in the streets showed Br. Jim and Megan. Who knew something as simple as a prayer could mean so much to so many people. It was shocking to see how many young and old people stopped us to ask for a rosary. It taught me that in the end, the little things in life do matter and just going around and saying hello can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Being in the streets was an eye-opening experience; one that I hope we all have at some point in our lives.
–Evans Yamoah, Benedictine Service Volunteer, St James Church
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