Arts & Culture

Community and faith leaders take back the night for Harvey's youth

Citizens for Harvey Youth hosted an outdoor movie night under the stars to get youth off the phones and talking with one another. “It’s welcoming and engaging. We’re out sitting together like we’re at home,” one member said.

Harvey kids carefully burn marshmallows around the fire at an outdoor movie night hosted by Citizens United for Harvey's Youth. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
Harvey kids carefully burn marshmallows around the fire at an outdoor movie night hosted by Citizens United for Harvey's Youth. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis

A nine millimeter orchestra from the block over miffed residents of 156th Street and Lincoln Avenue last summer. Tonight, it’s riotous, once more. Children run and scream—but not from the sound of gunfire.

They’re playing hide-and-go-seek. Two controlled, tepee campfires keep gawkers warm as they sip hot cocoa.

“Anybody want smores?” yells Latrice Rattler, setting out chocolate and graham crackers. Alas, she’s forgotten the marshmallows inside the church.

Citizens United for Harvey’s Youth hosted an outdoor movie event for Harvey tweens and tots, kicking aside the insularity of social media for a night filled with laughter and games.

It’s the second event from the newly formed youth-driven community group, working to prove they’re here for the long haul.

Residents have become accustomed to rallying cries to organize that don’t come to fruition. CUFHY is working against that public perception, “to stay relevant—let them know that we’re really here,” Rattler said. “It’s not just a once a year thing. We’re not gonna come here and come out.”

The turnout was smaller than their inaugural back-to-school talent show, but CUFHY co-founder Cassandra Dawkins-Jackson said it was worth it. “It’s welcoming and engaging. We’re out sitting together like we’re at home,” she said.

Her son’s a senior at Bremen Township High School. His senior homecoming football game fell on the same night, but she chose to attend movie night while her husband went to the game, she said.

It’s the first and only game she’s ever missed, but “the commitment that I made to this would not allow me to back out,” Dawkins-Jackson said. The event was “free free,” she said, with group members paying out of pocket for food and scraping together games and other activities from the church basement.

“We’re hoping we can get more comradery and collaboration for the people who are trying to do the same thing that we’re doing. It’s not a competition,” she added.

It’s part of a larger frustration among CUFHY: they’ve found others question their motives or view their efforts as part of some imaginary clout competition ahead of election season. No CUFHY members are running for public office.

The group’s work is genuine and collaborative. “If we can come together on these things, there’s nothing that can stop us.”

The fire is ablaze after briefly losing its ember, with more wood added to keep it burning throughout the night. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
The fire is ablaze after briefly losing its ember, with more wood added to keep it burning throughout the night. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
Children are introduced to classic board games like "Memory" and "UNO." HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
Children are introduced to classic board games like "Memory" and "UNO." HWH / Amethyst J. Davis

The 1980s Tom Hanks fan favorite “BIG” plays as a crisp fall breeze grips the air.

Across the street, Derek Atchinson, who founded the group of entrepreneurs, parents, and former educators, chats with residents who’ve wrapped themselves in blankets as they sit on their front porches to enjoy the film from afar.

There wasn’t a phone or tablet in sight, Atchinson noted, especially amongst the children. “I think the kids need to get used to a simpler life, a less technological life,” Atchinson said, “and learn to relate again.”

Universal Baptist Church, which hosted the event, now operates as CUFHY’s ad hoc headquarters. The group voiced previous struggles securing a venue to host events, eventually embraced by UMB. “Bishop always says ‘yes,’” Rattler joked.

Teens cozy up as they watch a film. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
Teens cozy up as they watch a film. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis

Beaming in his own customized CUFHY t-shirt, Senior Bishop Troy Garner beamed as he positioned the event as part of a larger effort to serve those nearby. More Latino residents live in the immediate area.

“What a better way to reach the community than to have an ecumenical building of all faiths?” Garner said.

Garner, who’s been head pastor for four years, previously served as the first Black pastor to an all-Latino congregation at Eagles of God Christian Center on Chicago’s West Side, where he also had a translator.

Food giveaways, toys-for-tots, job training, and a burgeoning youth division are ways the church has helped quell violence in the area, Garner said, but they want to do more.

“When CUFHY came along, I was waiting on something new and different,” Garner said, open to collaborating with CUFHY to actualize its community-driven, youth-oriented mission.

The UMB’s collaboration with CUFHY comes as the church plans to launch a college scholarship program in honor of the deceased Reverend John Taylor, whom Garner spoke fondly of, valued at $500.

Elementary school and kindergarten graduates will receive $100 and $25, respectively, Garner said.

Senior Bishop Troy Garner (pictured right in a black t-shirt) helps kids roast marshmallows as to not burn themselves. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
Senior Bishop Troy Garner (pictured right in a black t-shirt) helps kids roast marshmallows as to not burn themselves. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
CUFHY co-founder Cassandra Dawkins-Jackson beams as she shows off her Afrocentric earrings for the night. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis
CUFHY co-founder Cassandra Dawkins-Jackson beams as she shows off her Afrocentric earrings for the night. HWH / Amethyst J. Davis

There’s a lot happening at the church.

Located in the third ward, Alderwoman Telanee Smith (3rd), hosts her ward meetings at UBC, said Garner.

Both groups are planning more events like free giveaways ahead of the holiday season, something they hope to collaborate on.

“Of course, we’re supporting anything that Universal does because Universal is supporting CUFHY,” Atchinson said.

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