Praying for Peace in Chicago's Holy City

Like a biblical plague, murder, mayhem and drugs have besieged area for years

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    NEWSLETTERS

    An 11-year-old activist is trying to bring peace to the violent streets he travels everyday to and from school.

    As the Chicago public school year draws to a close, 27 students have died violently.  Another 198 have been injured, the result of a violent act.

    At the tender age of 11, Larry Davis already knows too much about violence.

    "We are trying as kids to do the best we can, so we can get out of school, walk outside, go to the store, you know have peace around us and everything about us is peace," he said as he sat on a street curb one Friday night.

    Across the street was William Penn Elementary School, where Davis is in the fifth grade. This spring one of his classmates, a girl, he said, was shot.

    "She was there, broad daylight," he recounts, "when they was shooting."

    We are sitting in the heart of Holy City, which got its name from the Vice Lords street gang.  But like a biblical plague, murder, mayhem and drug dealing have besieged the area for years.

    What do you do when there is shooting around you, we asked?

    "I duck.  And when I duck I just pray to God that it just stops and our community just come together," Davis said.

    Each morning, Davis makes the 15 minute drive to school from his home in North Lawndale.

    "Everyday our teacher talks to us," he said.  "How do we feel about Holy City, how do we feel about the violence?"

    The Holy City is an area running from Pulaski to Homan and Roosevelt to Cermak.  For 42 years it has been the domain of the Vice Lords, the dominant gang on Chicago’s west side.

    On a recent Friday night, a handful of people came to a Ceasefire rally to plead for peace including Chicago Police Commander Berscott Ruiz.

    "We are hoping to work together and provide peace for this community,” Ruiz said. "Something that is dearly in need."

    Derek Brown was there, too. He spent 17 years climbing up the ranks of the Vice Lords, only to leave the gang, he says, two years ago.

    "We can’t wait on nobody to look for something for us," said Brown, who on the street was known as Shotgun.

    It’s a Saturday morning and in a small gym at William Penn there is the distinct sound of leather slapping leather.  Brown is sweating as he instructs a group of kids in the fine art of boxing.

    These days he says his mission is to teach kids to walk away from a fight.

    "They think they are learning one thing,” he says about the boxing instruction, "but they are obtaining the greatest thing of all -- self-discipline, self-control, self-respect."

    Still the residue of violence permeates everyday life.

    "Like I had a cousin who was killed. I had a uncle who had went to jail,” says Larry Davis. His father is in prison.

    But he also has a mother who works hard, three brothers and a dream to go to college.

    In 1989 we met another 11-year old child, also scarred by the violence and likewise determined to find a better to life.

    Alonzo "Boo" Campbell, with a soft voice and an innocent face had been shot in the arm as he crossed a west side park.

    He told us back then he dreamed of one day "being the police."

    On the morning Barack Obama became president of the United States, Alonzo Campbell, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for gang murder as an armed habitual criminal.

    Now comes young Larry Davis, and the question---what will become of his life?

    Even at 11 he's already examining his life,

    "I’m not gonna pretend like I am so perfect," he says. "Yeah I did bad things in my life before. I fight, got suspended, yeah I did that stuff before."

    That's changed now, he said. Hope, it is said, always dies last.

    Eleven year olds get pressure to join gangs, don’t they, we ask?

    "Yeah but with the kind of momma I got, it won’t happen," he says, "'Cause my mom she wants us to be something in life."