For more than 20 years, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva (UUSG) has sponsored an annual holiday gathering with 30-35 boys from the Illinois Youth Center (IYC) at St. Charles who do not get visitors. Each year our church donates a large gift to the youth center as a whole – game tables, large screen TVs, computers, etc. We also give individual gift bags to the 35 boys, including hand-knit hats, gloves, socks, decks of cards, candy, puzzle books, and books donated by Literacy Volunteers.
In addition, for the past two years UUSG has invited representatives from Ceasefire Chicago to join us at the party. All of these individuals were formerly incarcerated but have turned their lives around and are lending “street cred” to helping gang members prevent violence. Ricardo (Cobe) Williams is one of these quick-thinking, brave Ceasefire representatives who has joined us. When he speaks with the IYC boys, he shares the story of Mikey, who had been locked in the St. Charles IYC but, with the help of Ceasefire, now has a job, a car, a place to live, and a family. Cobe acts like a magnet to many of the “forgotten” boys at the party. They eagerly ask for his contact information, so that they can hope for a better life after they are released.
This year, we introduced Cobe as a “movie star”, since his work has been documented in an outstanding film entitled The Interrupters (directed by the prize-winning team which created Hoop Dreams). A reviewer for “Rotten Tomatoes” website wrote, “The Interrupters is a tough and honest documentary about street violence that truly has the power to inspire change.”
The UUSG Social Justice committee also sponsors a “Free Friday Flick” series on the third Friday of each month. In the fall, we began brainstorming how to bring The Interrupters to the Fox Valley area. Knowing that the film had not been released to the public, we would need to find funding not only for the rights to show it but also for a theater to lend their facility to the project. Fortunately, one of our members recalled that State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia from Aurora has been a staunch advocate of statewide funding for Ceasefire (Note: direct correlations have shown a decrease in violence in the city whenever Ceasefire Chicago is fully funded.
Chapa LaVia was excited about the project, and quickly arranged for funds as well as organizational help for UUSG to show the film at the Randall 15 IMAX theater in Batavia on the morning of Saturday, January 21. We printed free tickets reserving places in the largest theater and had requests for more than 220 of the tickets. A heavy snowfall on January 20 prevented some people from attending – including a whole busload of students from East Aurora high school.
Nevertheless, the film was well-attended, and the audience was treated to a Q&A with Ceasefire Director Tio Hardiman following the screening.