On Aug. 4, more than 100 grassroots advocates and community members gathered in Chicago at the HopeWell M.B. Church to launch the “Survivors Alliance for Justice and Healing.” They also shared stories about their lives.
For the participants, a key part of the solution to achieve that justice and promote healing in Chicago is a “systemic” response that focuses on quality education, well-paying jobs and access to mental health services.
The event occurred as the city is seeing a record number of homicides and shootings and its public schools are losing teachers. Also, elected state leaders have yet to pass a full budget which would provide money for social service programs to assist residents.
“We are an alliance of crime survivors and formerly incarcerated that have come together to call for healing in our communities. Together, we acknowledge the trauma caused both by crime and the policies that have ravaged our low-income, Black and Brown communities and led to mass incarceration,” alliance members said in a statement about their principles.
“We believe that crime is a symptom of an unhealthy society and our collective response must be to make our communities stronger and safer by providing the resources needed to heal. We call for healing through art. We call for education, mental health services, jobs and addiction treatment. We call for a shift in priorities. We call for justice.”
Among the speakers was Priscilla Simes, a parent-leader with Target Area DevCorp., a grassroots organization that focuses on social justice issues. Simes, whose son passed away, has been working with Target Area DevCorp. for more than 10 years on issues of public safety and criminal justice reform. She also works with youth in her community.
Target Area DevCorp. hosted the event. Communities United, another social justice organization, is helping to lead the alliance, which is receiving support from United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, ONE Northside and Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI).
Below is an edited version of remarks that Simes shared with community members and grassroots advocates at the event:
“Hello everyone. My name is Priscilla Simes from Target Area. I promise not to be before you long.
I come to you as a mother! I come to you as an ex-offender! I come to you, as a survivor. I did a six-year bid in prison, for something I didn’t do, but because of my lifestyle!
[I] stumbled into a place called Target Area DevCorp. They loved on me, receiving me with open arms. They didn’t look at me for who I was, but, for who I may become!”
— Priscilla Simes, now a parent-leader with Target Area DevCorp.
I found myself in a place I just didn’t want to be in. When I came home from the penitentiary, I couldn’t even get a McDonald’s job!
The system said, ‘No! You know that X you got on your back? Quit playing!’
I applied for government assistance, and the lady told me, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not eligible for government assistance, [a] job or job training because you’re an ex-offender!’
I said: ‘Let me get this straight! You won’t give me no job, I’m not entitled to job training, and I’m not eligible for government assistance?’
Then, I asked her: ‘What shall I do?’ I tell you what I did. I fell into a state of major depression, at the end of my rope, when all hope was gone!
I messed around and stumbled into a place called Target Area DevCorp. They loved on me, receiving me with open arms. They didn’t look at me for who I was, but, for who I may become! Trained me, gave me a second chance! Then, I got to give second chances!
[A] few months before I came home from prison, I got a phone call in [the] state penitentiary, saying: ‘I’m sorry Ms. Simes, your son was murdered, in front of your house, broad daylight!’
I tell you, the truth! You’re looking at somebody God brought back from the dead! [He] had a beautiful heart too, 19 years old, always smiling. Later on, they found out it was mistaken identity. But you know how they do! They shoot first and ask questions later!
If you happen to be a victim of circumstances, oh well, another one bites the dust! It’s time for a change!
I’ll never forget when my son came to me and said, ‘Mama, I wish I had a job!’ You see, a place like Target Area DevCorp. wasn’t available in the Englewood area for my child!
It probably could’ve even saved his life, and so it is! Every day, we hear on the news another mother crying on national TV for [the] death of her child.
Children are being slaughtered in the streets on a daily basis! What price do you put on human life? Silenced voices! Shattered dreams!
They may no longer have voices, but their blood cries out from the streets for justice and equality in the land of opportunity! In the United States of America!
Unacceptable. Too many mothers crying. It’s too many children dying. We miss their voice. It’s time for a change.”
The top image, which shows the Aug. 4 kickoff meeting for the “Survivors Alliance for Justice and Healing” in Chicago, is courtesy of Target Area DevCorp.