Within the last several years, the city of Chicago has been widely known as having one of the highest murder rates in the United States. Due to this, the term “Chiraq” has been infamously coined for the lively city because of the constant shootings frequently committed in predominately the West and South sides of the city. In the West side of Chicago however, two women are aiming to make a difference regarding the issue of gun violence.
Arielle Maldonado and Krystal Robledo created The Healing Corner, an organization that sets up tables on street corners in neighborhoods that are affected by gun violence and provides an array of resources for those in the community, especially for young men in these communities that are involved in gang-related activity. The Healing Corner works to build a dialog on violence while simultaneously providing resources and necessities for those in the community.
The Healing Corner began in 2015 when Robledo attended a prayer vigil with her children in the West Humboldt Park area. It was during that prayer vigil, a group of people were praying in a circle holding hands, when suddenly shots were fired on the other side of the ally, interrupting the vigil entirely. Traumatized, Robledo and her children fled the scene and then she called l Maldonado to inform her about the shooting. Thinking that prayer vigils were not enough to solve this rising issue, Maldonado responded by saying to Robledo, “Something needs to be done because the people who keep shooting are going to think that it is acceptable.”
Shortly after, both Robledo and Maldonado visited an organization on the South Side that handed out free food. The women proposed that they should do something similar to that on the West side. To do this, they reached out to several different organizations to come together and start this corner to try to leave an impact in these communities.
The first ever Healing Corner was hosted on the corner of West Division Street and Keeler Avenue in West Humboldt Park, where Robledo resides. This corner was chosen to host the first Healing Corner because it had numerous issues and was notoriously known as the “Killing Corner”. The various organizations came together to grill and converse, while the young men who were hanging out across the street came to help out, carry things, and set up.
After hosting a very successful corner, those young men approached Maldonado, Robledo and others. Maldonado explains, “The guys that helped us in the beginning came up to us and said, ‘Man, if you were to start this two years ago there would be peace here right now. So we left with the idea that we have to keep doing this because volunteers and people of the community would ask when the next corner was.”
Setting up on corners in West side neighborhoods like Humboldt Park, Austin and Garfield Park, The Healing Corner offers various beneficial services. The organization tries to avoid setting up on busy streets and instead settles on empty lots and playgrounds that have been neglected. This set-up presents several tables offering food, resources, and sometimes an additional table dedicated to special events and holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Mother’s Day.
The resource table features a mixture of different resources and assets located in the area that are directed to bettering the community as a whole. Some of the assets that the Healing Corner has to offer ranges from the Humboldt Park Food Pantry booklet, homeless resource sheets, flyers for upcoming summer activities and programming, GED tutoring, and much more. “We try to compile resources to make it easier if somebody is looking for something specific,” Maldonado said. The organization also tries to bring bubbles, chalk, jump rope, and playing balls in order to give the corner a welcoming feeling.
The corner also includes several features that enhance the conversation on violence for both adults and children. These features include a binder where children can enter their drawings and a poster board asking the important question of how the violence should end, as people are free to write their opinion on the subject.
The Healing Corner spent all of 2016 building relationships and trust with the neighborhoods. “Before they would ask us if we were apart of the law and we were not affiliated with a church, so some guys were skeptical and thought it was weird,” Maldonado said.
The organization’s current aim is to focus on education for 2017. “Now were trying to start the dialog in the communities of what is happening in the local city and state governments as well as what policies are coming into place that will affect these neighborhoods and their everyday living,” Maldonado said. “Education can help form unity, especially to the younger guys.”
Since it’s founding, the organization has expanded to other areas apart from the West side. They have hosted Healing Corners in Rogers Park and will have two events in the South Side this upcoming summer. Outside of Chicago, the Healing Corner has also set up sites a couple of times in neighborhoods in Boston and North Philadelphia. Maldonado states that the Healing Corner’s goal is to try to host a corner at least once a week, aiming to improve these conditions in these different areas week by week.
After being asked if the violence in Chicago has gotten better or worse, Maldonado broke down the many factors that she believes cause the frequent shootings and other violence that occurs in the city. She explains that the gang structure has changed drastically especially after the destruction of the Cabrini Green housing projects as this dispersed many people in the city. There were also many police stings, Maldonado said, which sent gang leaders to prison, as this led to more cliques and more youth not listening to elders. Now, a lot of the gangs consist of younger men. Guns are also easier to access as well, Maldonado explained.
The biggest factor however, Maldonado said, is the role that schools play regarding the violence affecting the city. The combination of schools closing and teachers’ short school tenure creates a lack of a stable platform. Because a lot of these children in these communities do not have parents involved in their lives or permanent teachers they can look up to, the lack of guidance immensely contributes to the schools’ unstable nature.
“That’s why The Healing Corner tries to go back and go to the corners we visited before to show we did not forget about them. Through that, we restore hope and spread love which is really needed,” Maldonado said.
The impact that The Healing Corner has left on the neighborhoods they have touched is rather immense. By constantly showing up in different neighborhoods that need improvement and education, they “set a positive example of what community is and what it should look like,” Maldonado said.
CALL TO ACTION
The Healing Corner will be hosting a corner on Sunday, June 4th on the corner of Washington and Parkside in Austin if you would like to attend. They are also participating at Kelvyn Park High School’s End of the School Year Event in Hermosa on June 9th. They will also host their first corner in the South side on July 8th on 25th Place and Washtenaw by Washtenaw Park in Little Village. In addition, the organization is raising money for their future events and other various resources they can attain. If you would like to donate, you can go on www.YouCaring.com/TheHealingCorner or share the link on Facebook. To follow them on social media, like them on Facebook @TheHealingCornerChicago