Long Hot Summer: Getting kids off the corners—and back to church

July 2, 2012

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Summer after summer, Chicagoans are consumed by violence and a seemingly exponential murder rate. And, it seems, summer after summer, we talk about the need for whole families, better education, jobs and police boots on the ground—yet, the cycle continues. This year, Afternoon Shift hopes to move beyond the headlines in hopes of better understanding the violence—it roots and possible remedy—through frank, forward-thinking, holistic conversations in a series we’re calling, Long Hot Summer.

Author and Chicago Sun-Times columnist John Fountain has been writing about violence in Chicago since he was a cub reporter at the Chicago Tribune in 1989—though he’d been living the beat long before that. Fountain grew up on Chicago’s West Side, in K-Town. There, he was exposed to poverty and its symptoms: drugs, broken homes, gang violence and crime. But he knew he wanted to make a difference. Part of that, he says, was his Pentecostal upbringing; Fountain’s grandfather was the pastor of the True Vine church. Fountain went on to become a deacon in the church and maintains that faith holds the answer to so many problems.

“When the church moves beyond its doors, it can do incredibly powerful things,” Fountain said.

It did for Fountain: A father at 17, a college dropout at 19, a welfare case soon after, Fountain nearly lost all hope. But faith, he wrote in his memoir, was his own true vine. 

Fountain says the faith community remains a vital part of the black community. “In some ways,” he explained, “it is an overweight, cumbersome, sleeping giant that needs to get fit…and return to the business of doing good work.”

Fountain shared his thoughts on Afternoon Shift’s most recent Long Hot Summer conversation. Also joining the conversation was Father Chuck Dahm, who has been at St. Pius in Pilsen for more than 25 years, and Pastor Phil Jackson, aka the “hip hop pastor,” who organizes various youth-centered programs in the Lawndale community.