Elgin symposium discusses ways to make for more peaceful city
By Janelle Walker For Sun-Times Media November 3, 2013 6:16PM
Updated: December 5, 2013 6:11AM
ELGIN — Until there is social justice for everyone, there can be no peace.
That was the message that the Rev. Denise Tracy, president of the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders, said she learned Sunday afternoon at the first-ever Safe City — Peaceful City symposium.
Held at Judson University, the symposium brought just 25 people — many of whom already are involved through churches or social service agencies to help Elgin and other Fox Valley area residents.
However, Tracy said, while they may have been preaching to the choir, that choir is made up of the voices, hands and feet of people who are working in the community and can help bring more people to the table.
The idea for the symposium started after the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings in December 2012, Tracy said.
But instead of focusing on gun violence, the organization of Elgin religious leaders instead decided to focus on the mental health and services that residents need.
“Several people wanted to start there (with guns),” Tracy said. “But guns are not the issue. Mental health, education and resources for people who are in need so they can have a quality of life and decrease their frustration” — that is the issue, she said.
She was encouraged by what Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said about not being able to arrest their way to a peaceful community.
“The police are there to monitor and help rather than just punish,” Tracy said.
The police department focuses on helping the public be the police, and police be the public, Swoboda said. That was the goal of the very first police force when formed in 1829 in London, he added.
Swoboda joined representatives from Elgin School District U46, the Ecker Center for Mental Health, the Elgin Community Crisis Center and the Renz Addiction Counseling Center to talk about what is happening now to help create peace by creating opportunity.
Often, Swoboda said, the duties of the police are duties that are incumbent on all of us — watching out for our neighbors.
Police departments do the “heavy lifting” by arresting people and taking them to jail, he noted. But helping people stay away from the risky behavior that either leads them into a life of crime or makes them a victim of the crime is something that everyone — from parents to neighbors to the religious community — can be involved with, he said.
“It never ceases to amaze me, the way people put themselves in the very bad situations,” Swoboda said — from not locking their cars and houses to meeting people at a park at night to sell a cellphone.
Being an example and showing young people what lies beyond their neighborhoods is also important. Swoboda remembers taking Elgin children to a camp experience with the Resident Officer Program of Elgin, and the kids laughing because they’d never seen a cow before. They were 10 minutes outside of the city, he added.
Students need to see people who look and sound like them to feel like they belong, and to see their possible futures, added Ricardo Gasca of the Renz Center. He works with Elgin and Carpentersville youth to help prevent future drug use.
Often, they don’t see teachers who look like them. It isn’t necessarily the school district’s fault, either.
Instead, young people from the Hispanic community aren’t finishing their college educations to be able to take those jobs, Gasca said. “Parents need to be involved in their children’s lives, and children in their parents. Our children need to know what we do for a living, too,” he said.
There are real answers that can come out of discussions such as those held Sunday, Tracy added. It was a discussion like this one that led to four or five separate church-organized food pantries becoming the Feeding Greater Elgin Food Pantry, she said.
“People are meeting these needs separately,” she said, “and it isn’t until we get in the same room and realize we are dealing with the same thing that we have sustainable change.”