The streets of Chicago is not as hard to maneuver as some may think. Growing up on the West Side, Madison Street was the geographical compass of determining where we coming from and where we were heading. We were introduced to our first presidents by becoming familiar with the order of our streets. Whether you lived between Washington, Jackson, Adams, Monroe and Van Buren—the common denominator was the West Side.
As you travel South from Austin, over the I-290 Eisenhower Express- way, the numbers go up past Roosevelt and the empty lots begin to open up into the Lawndale community and traveling North East will position you in Humboldt Park. Knowing the streets is not about being tough and guarded, it’s about being geographically aware and so in tune that you become the compass. This can save your life or end it.
BUILD has been a life saver for many whose called the West Side and Northwest Side of Chicago their home. Established in 1969 under Broader Urban Involvement & Leader- ship Development, it began as a gang intervention program dealing with more than 200 gang affiliated youth. Since its start, BUILD now serves close to 3,000 Chicago youth in the Austin, Humboldt Park, Lawndale, Garfield Park and reaching out to the South Side.
There are organizations that have similar outreach programs but BUILD has carved out a unique place in the community which has existed over the past 46 years. They have called the North Side home until 2012 when they relocated their operations to the Austin community, occupying the old South Shore Bank building north of the I-290 expressway. What may be regarded to some as a community center, behind the walls of the pristine white and brown brick building is years of history and hard core experience. The organization is run like a well-oiled machine with art and technology pro- grams for young students but there are no restrictions for community residents of all ages to utilize their resources.
As you walk the hallways of BUILD, the artwork of students grace the walls giving you a sense of community owner and participation. However er, the real beauty of the organization is the ‘art of intervention’–the staff. BUILD has one of the most effective gang intervention teams in the Chicago region. The team is a diverse group of ex-gang members, ex-felons and non-offenders, both Hispanic and Black men who have come together for a common mission—to save young lives.
Clifton ‘Booney’ McFowler grew up in the Austin community having joined ‘The Undertakers’, a part of the Vice Lords gang in the 1970’s. He served 27 years in prison and upon release, returned to his neighborhood noticing a great change. “I been home 5 years. I’ve been in this community all of my life. When I returned home and saw the condition of my community I recognized that I was such a major part of the construction of my community. I knew I had to be a part of the reconstruction of my community,” He said.
He was approached by BUILD to join their team and be a part of this change with its influence and experience. He is happy with his choice and feels a connection to the youth that they are in need for some solid guidance.
“The youth can bring their grievances to us. When they bring it to me, I bring it to us (BUILD). We sit around as a team and discuss solutions as how to combat the violence in the community. We also help the youth find jobs during the summer and winter times. These are the resources that we didn’t have in Austin when I was growing up,” McFowler said. “This end of Austin – everyone forget about the South. Things are concentrated North of here so this ends up being the most neglected part of the Austin community. This is the most violent section because there aren’t a lot of resources – no entrepreneurship.”
Felix Jusino has been a part of BUILD since 1990’s, having served time and released in 1994 — It has be- come a real life mission for him. “I’ve been doing this type of work since 1994. Before then, I got in trouble and went to prison and got out. I started working with BUILD. During the time I was in prison, I realized my fellow in- mates were not my enemy. I learned that inside. When I was in the streets, and I saw you, I would come at you because of your ‘colors’ (gangs identify each other by their colors) or because you were a different race. I realized inside the prison walls, that we weren’t enemies,” Jusino said. With organizations such as Cease Fire on shaky ground not receiving ad- equate State funding to continue community outreach to youth in trouble; BUILD picks up the slack. It continues an ongoing connection with young adults.
The BUILD team shares common experiences with its clients. Jusino said, “They can relate to us because we’ve been through a lot of the hard- ships they’re going through. ‘You’ve been shot, I’ve been shot. You’e fight- ing a case, I’ve fought cases. You’ve been down to prison, I’ve been to prison.’ I know it can delay some things in life but I can do it – you can do it. So, that’s our message.
As one of the younger invention coordinators, Terrence Smith has never been convicted and has used his influence to encourage students through sports. “As far as connecting with the youth, it’s just meeting them where they’re at – to find a common goal to reach them. A lot of us use sports – that’s the big thing. There’s food and there’s sports. You have free food or basketball or have a football, it breaks a lot of barriers,” He said. “Some of the things that we do with the gangs is ‘case management’ through the juvenile detention center. The first thing is to make sure that they have a safe and comfortable haven because they come from all over the city. They can get there safely and return home safely. That is our first priority.”
Everyday, there is a young victim whose been shot or have died from a gunshot wound. The relationships that the team has grown over the years, have built a level of trust between many families of trouble youth. No one knows this better than Max Cerda who is often on speed dial with many families. A former staffer of Cease Fire and hospital respondent, he is a quiet but strong presence on the BUILD gang intervention team.
“BUILD is not funded by the government, they just can’t shut us down because they don’t want to give us any money. That’s another contributing factor that keeps us successful. Our predecessors, our past directors were wise and smart enough to have relationships and engage with private donors that is not contingent on the State budget. We’re blessed com- pared to other organizations depending on State and federal funding,” Cerda explains.
One of the ways that BUILD continues to bring in the private donations is through ongoing monthly events such as fundraisers hosted by the Associate Board. They continue to host seminars and workshops for residents to learn about healthy eating, nutrition, job preparation, art design and life learning skills. There is no doubt the commitment that its staff has to help the community grow in a positive way.
“We’ve been here and we’re still here. We’re committed. We keep our relationships going, we build from there and we’re consistent,” Booney said. “When you’re working with young people, you have to be consistent. The moment you walk away—they don’t want to have anything to do with you.”