Tio Hardiman often has good ideas. As the Director of CeaseFire Illinois, he has done many things in the name of peace: basketball tournaments, musical performances, and high risk mediations between large groups of warring enemies. Tio is known as the man who works hard to get things done. This summer Tio had a new idea: a late night run for peace though West Humboldt, a neighborhood hard hit by drug sales, gang involvement, and violence.
Every year the Chicago marathon winds its way across the city, along the lakefront, through cheering throngs on onlookers. West Humboldt Park is decidedly not on the marathon route. However, for one hot August evening, about 100 runners would turn a 2 mile stretch of West Humboldt Park into a spectacle that conveyed neighborhood pride, a coalition of peace-builders, and a happy occupation of the city streets for a celebratory activity.
I was among the runners assembled that night in our bright red t-shirts. The police closed down parts of Chicago and Division avenues for our safe passage, and away we tore down the darkened West Side streets. A diverse set of runners participated: two women with baby carriages, a five year old boy running with his father, staff from Northwestern hospital who had heard about the run and came out in support. As I ran up Chicago avenue I passed a couple of teenagers proclaiming playfully that someone was "gonna get jumped" as we ran through the neighborhood. I'm sure they were just trying to make sense of the crowd, and the fact that many fear the blocks where we were running -- especially at night.
I ran along side many CeaseFire staff members. Tim White, a violence interrupter and minister, yelled out inspirational messages throughout the run. "I've run away for the wrong reasons for so long, and now I'm running for all the right reasons!" "When life gets hard, don't give up!" I told him he got brownie points for preaching and inspiring while he ran. For me, simply running was challenging enough.
As we ran the streets filled with neighbors and residents, pouring out of their houses and onto the streets. They hung out their windows and set off their car alarms in applause for the runners. Onlookers clapped and hollered. Some joined us running with the crowd. The run ended in Kells Park where water, fruit, entertainment, and throngs of supporters awaited.
This event was brilliant in many ways. The concept was not just creative, but transformative. By assembling a group of people to come out and run, many messages were given. The event drove home that fact that people working together can transform spaces, and can challenge and change community norms. Additionally, the event emphasized physical fitness. It is difficult to run in places where you fear violence, or "getting jumped". The fact that residents discussed "getting in shape for next year's run" was inspirational and transformative all on its own. The event was also brilliant in that the joy of the runners and the joy of the residents lit up the streets, and allowed everyone to feel safe, inspired, and proud.