Block parties, youth groups set strategy for Halloween peace

 

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff writer

Those seeking to prevent a fourth-consecutive Halloween night of vandalism and violence are employing two strategies: an organized event with DJs and performers on 53rd Street until around 11 p.m., and block parties elsewhere in Hyde Park-Kenwood until 10 p.m.

Good Kids Mad City (GKMC), an anti-violence group, is taking an active role in the first undertaking, counting on their experience with organizing and nonviolent de-escalation. Alycia Moaton, an 18-year-old Kenwood Academy graduate whom GKMC made available for an interview, said the group got involved at Ald. Sophia King’s (4th) behest.

King and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and the Chicago and University of Chicago police departments have held planning meetings for Halloween night throughout the summer.

As a group led by and serving youth of color with chapters on the South and West sides, Moaton said GKMC saw an opening in a planning process that had heretofore been run by adults.

“I think what we have is that we’re very connected with youth,” she said. “I’m very familiar with Hyde Park. A lot of us know a lot of kids who go to Hyde Park Academy, go to Kenwood, go to King — who live near that area. We know that, if you get a certain DJ, what people will come. If you ask certain performers to come out, we will come to see that. I think we had the up-hand in knowing what will connect and what will get youth to come out.”

African American youth from South Side neighborhoods outside of Hyde Park have come to the neighborhood on Halloween night since 2016, when social media posts about a Hyde Park “purge” — named after the titular 2013 dystopian horror movie — circulated. Moaton said GKMC associates are well-positioned to communicate with them and understand their rationale for coming to the neighborhood: Hyde Park is safer than other South Side neighborhoods.

Halloween pranks, recklessness and petty vandalism have long been a mainstay of American adolescence, from “corning” in rural areas to smashed jack-o’-lanterns, ubiquitous nationwide. While Moaton acknowledged that Halloween planning in Hyde Park has been done chiefly to prevent unrest from breaking out again, GKMC’s goal this year is tied to Hyde Park’s image as a place of refuge in the South Side imagination.

“Our vision for it is to create a fun, safe space for a lot of teenagers to have on Halloween in Hyde Park,” she said, adding that GKMC did not seek to “distract kids from doing anything illegal or dangerous.”

GKMC, she said, wants to give youth the space to have a good time: “Everyone deserves that on a holiday.”

Moaton said the previous years’ events had not been well advertised but that GKMC has been adeptly reaching out to youth elsewhere on the South Side through social media. “The promotion of it and reaching out to kids who aren’t necessarily in Hyde Park and making it a more public thing will help increase the turnout,” she said.

The event will run later this year than before. “We know that if the event is from 6 to 10, you don’t know what could happen after 10 o’clock,” she explained.

Moaton said 5 or 6 GKMC members have been attending the police-aldermen planning meetings, with 15 to 20 members total involved.

There will be a police presence on Halloween night, but Moaton said she hopes that GKMC will be able to defuse any hot spots if they arise.

“We connect with these kids, and we know the language that they use,” she said. “A lot of us are friends with these people or went to school with these people, so we know if something were to happen — if tension happens, if a situation might pop off — we’re able to mediate it, and we’re able to handle the situation and get it back to normal.

“We just really want to open this space up for a lot of people who can’t celebrate Halloween in their areas. Our whole point at GKMC is to open these spaces for a lot of people of color who don’t really get the chance to act in a way that anybody else could, and we really want to emphasize that we’re making these safe spaces for Black and Brown youth.

“I think it’s really important that we’re doing this event to really help them feel like they’re involved and that we’re thinking about them.”

The aldermen’s planning meetings have been specifically closed to the press. King explained that a journalist present would preclude free and unconfined discussion among attendees. The Herald was unable to confirm with either King or Hairston the specifics on what other organizations are planning the 53rd Street Halloween activities or from whence the funding is coming.

Hyde Parkers Bennie Currie and Mike Allen are planning community involvement activities, enlisting coordinators on neighborhood blocks to organize events and maintain a presence outside on Halloween night.

For his part, Currie lives near Kenwood Academy, and kids would congregate in the alley by his house. “Because I work from home sometimes — it can get kind of noisy — but rather than try to be confrontational, I would just leash my dog, take him for a walk and break up all the noise without having to do anything.

“I thought, ‘That might not be a bad idea on Halloween night, if things get to raucous,’” he said.

The plans, dubbed “CollaBOOration Night,” will not involve closing streets. Currie said individual block coordinators are planning cookouts, movie screenings and cider-sippings. The goal, Currie said, is to have the streets “looking as alive as possible, all the porch and living room lights on, so that we have a very visible presence from the street.”

“It’s a way to build community while also celebrating each other on Halloween night,” Currie said. “Hyde Park has always been welcoming to everyone. We want to continue to do that.”

At press time, 11 blocks have assigned coordinators, from 57th Street to Drexel Avenue to Hyde Park Boulevard. Currie wants as many as possible in the neighborhood.

Currie and Allen can be reached at bennie@mbc-financial.com and mja.nano@gmail.com, respectively; they are actively recruiting more coordinators, with additional meetings planned in October.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com