Since her son’s murder in 2017, Bertha Purnell has worked to help other mothers suffering the same tragedy. And she’s made it her mission to try and prevent gun violence in her neighborhood of Austin on Chicago’s West Side.
On Tuesday, she addressed a packed room at the South Shore Cultural Center, adding her voice to a pep-rally-like meeting calling for a dramatic reduction in Chicago homicides in 2020.
“I stand before you today to encourage you to work with our lawmakers, to work with our leaders. We all need some help,” Purnell told the crowd. ”It wasn't just my kid that was killed. We need to pray for our children, our brothers and sisters. We need to be out here fighting to stop this gun violence.”
Purnell works with the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, one of many anti-violence organizations to take part in Tuesday’s event, in which non-profit organizations that work with victims and perpetrators of gun violence challenged themselves and the city to achieve a 20% reduction in homicides this year.
About 250 people attended the event.
Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who leads Chicago CRED, an organization that tries to get jobs for the people closest to Chicago gun violence, said the event gave him “tremendous hope.”
“Part of what our challenge here in Chicago has been, we've been a little bit paralyzed, we’ve lacked ambition. We felt even overwhelmed or helpless, and that we couldn't do anything here,” Duncan said. “And so just trying to put out a goal, a 20% reduction in violence this year, let's challenge ourselves to do that together.”
Duncan pointed out that Chicago murders have been dropping by about 12% a year since the dramatic increase in violence in 2016. But he said the people in the neighborhoods that see the most gun violence do not feel safe.
“We still have so far to go,” Duncan said. “We have to start to hold ourselves collectively accountable and learn from each other and challenge each other, share best practices and help each other when we mess up to try and get to those numbers to a better place.”
Purnell said it will also take more investment in anti-violence efforts by the city government.
Earlier this month, the city announced a $6 million grant to help coordinate street outreach that will identify and provide services to people who are at high risk of being either victims or perpetrators of gun violence.
Purnell said the city of Chicago needs to do more. And she said she is hopeful that a 20% reduction in murders this year is possible.
“What [a 20% reduction] would mean to me is in a neighborhood, a child is able to come outside and play. A grandmother is able to come out and sit on her porch. People are walking in their yards. People are walking down their streets,” Purnell said. “My daughter is looking to buy bulletproof glass for her house. We shouldn't have to live like that.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the day of the event. We apologize for the error.