Chicago's Answer to Gangs? Defend the Fatherless

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CHICAGO - The mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December outraged Americans, leading to a renewed national debate on guns.

In Chicago, however, that murder count -- 20 children and six adults -- is only a blip on the radar.

The New Year brought the Windy City its deadliest January in more than a decade, resulting in expanded police patrols.

But community leaders say more cops are not the answer to the violence that has shaken the city for many years.

Senseless Tragedies

Ricardo Martinez's son served two tours in Iraq. But after returning home nearly seven years ago, he was shot dead while sitting in his car. The convicted gunman mistook him for a rival gang member.

Martinez still mourns his son's loss. He recently spoke with CBN News about years of violence on the city streets.

"You get up and you go to work and you cry all day while you are working," he said. "And you get home at night, and you look at the news and you feel like they just killed your son again when you see another parent going through the same thing."

Monica Hresil understands Martinez's pain. Chicago police are still searching for the person who shot her 18-year-old son, David, 12 times as he got off the bus to walk home from school in 2009.

"There is not a day that goes by that I don't shed a little bit of a tear," said Hresil, who sat down with CBN News in her Chicago living room, surrounded by photographs of her son. "There is not a day. I honestly don't see it ever being a day."

Tanita Cofield found herself faced with that same violent reality at the start of 2013. Her son was shot as he walked home from the store. He survived but faces months to years of rehabilitation.

"My son had been shot in the head and not the back," Cofield said. "And he also had a gun wound in his left hip. That tore me apart."

Murder Capital

Chicago saw more than 500 murders in 2012. In the first month of 2013, there were more than 40. That is three times the number of murders in New York City in the very same month.

As the 2013 death count continued to climb in what is now the country's murder capital, homicide No. 42 sparked outrage from the Windy City to the White House.
 
Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student, was gunned down at a park only a mile from President Obama's Chicago home. 

The shooting happened just days after she performed at his inauguration festivities with her school's marching band. It was a wet January day, and Pendleton and her friends simply wanted shelter from the rain.

At a news conference following the murder, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy told reporters, "A rival gang, determined, wrongfully that these individuals who were standing at that spot were members of a gang and fired into the crowd."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual ordered more officers to patrol the streets, following Pendleton's murder. The police did arrest Michael Ward, 18, and Kenneth Williams, 20, for the crime. Still, many Chicagoans say the violence problem is bigger than Chicago's "finest."

A Man on a Mission

Andrew Holmes is a Chicago native who works at a private security firm. He's also a community activist and spends much of his days on the phone taking crime tip calls, following the leads and visiting crime scenes to comfort shooting victims and their families.

On a rare break from his work, Holmes told CBN News, "I'm on a mission now to try to calm down some of this gun violence because I have been on both sides."

Photos of 4-year-old victims cover his desk. His professional work is also personal. Holmes was shot in gang cross-fire more than 18 years ago and nearly died.

Fighting tears, Holmes said, "It was tough. It is still tough now when you think about it, you know."

Personal pain also drives Holmes to reach out to gang members. They often call him "preacher" because he's always armed with a message of hope -- even when convincing them to turn themselves in to police.

Holmes said he often tells young men, "If you are coming up with a gang mentality lifestyle, you can't possibly raise a son or a daughter. You cannot be a father. That's not a father figure."

Defending the Fatherless

Isaiah 1:17 calls for believers to "defend the cause of the fatherless." That's what the men and women of GRIP do to tackle the city's rising gang violence. 

GRIP is an outreach program that began many years ago in Chicago's Cabrini Green Public Housing Project.  The buildings in the poor community have been torn down, but GRIP continues to reach out to the fatherless in the Windy City. 

The program partners with Chicago churches to pair young men and women with Christian mentors.

The GRIP team often calls their work "life on life."  When describing GRIP's mission, Executive Director Scott Grzesiak told CBN News, "Real life will take you to prisons, to hospitals. You are getting the 2 a.m. phone call and needing to respond. But it is also inviting kids over for movie night."

Mentor Director Brian Dye takes the ministry a step further. He pastors a house church in West Garfield Park, one of the areas hardest hit by the violence. He also lives in that community. Bullets ripped through his home the night his family moved in.

Dye recalled the night as he walked the streets of his neighborhood with CBN News. 

"We stayed up all night, just praying, seeking out God, singing praises to Him, thanking Him for safety in the midst of it," Dye said. "And about five in the morning, my wife looks at me in the eyes and she says, 'Brian, I know what the world says we should do, but this convinces me that we need to stay.'"

That was eight years ago. Dye and his wife now have plans to see house churches open in every neighborhood in the city.

A Brighter Future

Monday nights, GRIP brings hundreds of kids and their mentors together for fun, games, prayer and Bible study on the campus of Moody Bible Institute. The weekly celebration is called "SLAM," and it's loaded with life messages.

GRIP student Huell Collier holds one of those messages close to his heart. Collier told CBN News that message is, "Don't let where you come from determine where you are going to go. Just because you are in (a) messed up predicament now, it doesn't mean that it's going to always be like that."

Collier has watched his grades improve since uniting with GRIP four years ago. He also has plans to go to college. That's a plan he did not have until after joining the GRIP outreach program.

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Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.