Public safety isn’t just about addressing the root causes of crime or stopping people from picking up a gun. Sometimes, making a neighborhood safer is as simple as a water balloon or a bounce house.
That’s the idea behind the summer event series “Light in the Night,” put on a by a coalition of organizations working to make public spaces in Chicago safe, welcoming and fun.
On a hot summer Friday, the fun in St. Louis Park spilled out into the street. This event in East Garfield Park featured a basketball tournament, food on the grill, music — and plenty of water balloons.
Domonique McCord of Metropolitan Peace Initiatives said that reflects the range of different events that make up the Light in the Night series: “things from seniors playing card games to children being able to engage in bounce house and snow cones. I even worked the cotton candy machine at one event!”
The idea is to reclaim safe public spaces for communities across Chicago. It’s part of Metropolitan Peace Initiatives and Communities Partnering for Peace’s holistic approach to make the city safer for everyone. For Light in the Night, the organizations partner with 14 different groups across 27 communities.
“Each community in Chicago is unique,” McCord said. “We want to make sure that we have individuals that have what we call ‘license to operate’ and know their communities well and can serve the residents in that area the best.”
McCord said people want to feel like they have a place to gather with friends, family and neighbors — even when the street isn’t filled with the sounds of a basketball tournament and a dunk tank.
“Our hope is that, while we have Light in the Night Thursday through Saturday, on a Tuesday night they’ll feel just as comfortable as they did when we were out there to, as we say, reclaim these safe spaces in their communities,” McCord said.
Light in the Night events generally run from Wednesdays through the weekend all summer long, usually kicking off in the late afternoon.
“It actually is proven that once we saturate the area with our presence, with food, music, as well as just getting the community to come back out, long after we’re gone the community is actually coming back out on their own,” said Damien Morris with Breakthrough Urban Ministries, just down the block from the Light in the Night event that the group ran.
Morris said after a violent incident about 14 years ago, many people simply stayed inside. The work of creating a safe and joyful environment motivates him. The events also create opportunities for the vendors who get hired, with a focus on Black and Brown Chicagoans — as well as the young people who work with Breakthrough.
“We use this moment to stipend them as events management assistants,” Morris said, “so we’re giving them that work experience but also allowing them to see the results of their hard work as well.”
“I feel like Breakthrough is like a second home,” said Nyunna Stinson, one of the young folks working with the organization. She’s been with Breakthrough for three years.
Stinson said helping run these events and seeing the results of her hard work is gratifying — even if it can be a little out of her comfort zone.
“I’m not really an outgoing person, but when I see the people, I want them to smile, I want to make jokes for them so they can be comfortable, I just like doing stuff like that,” Stinson said. “I want them to feel like it’s just natural, like you’re at home.”