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The Roll N Peace Ride Spread a Message of Unity in Englewood

4:45 PM CDT on June 17, 2019

Mark Thompson of Teamwork Englewood and Deborah Payne from Oak Street health wear orange headbands to raise awareness of gun violence and honor the victims. 500 of the headbands were distributed at the ride by the anti-violence organizations Moms Demand Action & GPac. Photo: James Porter

On Friday evening the Roll N Peace Community Bike Ride pedaled through the streets of Englewood to promote public safety, encourage healthy recreation, connect residents with community resources, and highlight the positive aspects of the neighborhood that often get overlooked in discussions of South Side street violence. The ride was hosted by the community group Think Outside Da Block in cooperation with other neighborhood organizations and city agencies.

Hundreds of people on bikes did indeed roll in peace, with only one hitch: the rain. The ride left the Englewood Square shopping center, 6300 South Halsted, at about 8 p.m. But around 9, when the riders took a break at Ogden Park, a few sprinkles led them back to the starting point. Regardless, I'd say that a lot was accomplished during that one hour of riding.

Photo via 7th District Englewood.
Photo via 7th District Englewood.

The ride was preceded by a rally, where reps from the city's Vision Zero traffic crash reduction program provided info about safe commuting; Oak Street Wellness offered free health screenings, and mechanics from Working Bikes Cooperative checked out participants bikes to make sure they were road-worthy. Bike-share cycles were available as free loaners for the ride, and there were complimentary refreshments, plus music provided by DJ Gemini Jones.

As soon as the crowd of bike riders hit the streets, other community members came out of the woodwork to show their support. Every corner turn or stop light found the cyclists greeted by motorists with friendly horn beeps and other signs of solidarity. One top-hatted gentleman videoed the event on his Smartphone, providing narration as he filmed.

Photo: James Porter
Photo: James Porter

People on all kinds of bikes showed up for the ride. There were parents carrying small children on their cycles, as well as folks with motorized bikes. It felt like a block party on wheels.

Before the ride, I talked with some of the participants about the purpose of the event. "It's about taking a stand," said Deborah Payne, a volunteer at Oak Street Health. "Standing up for stopping the violence... It's showing the good in Englewood. We've got people coming from other places that bond with us, saying 'OK, let's do this.'"

Mark Thompson, director of operations for the community development organization Teamwork Englewood, echoed this. "The residents are saying 'We want to be more engaging. We want to take back our neighborhood for the good and really tell our own story,' opposing any negative views spread by the media."

Denise Brown and Julien Keith. Photo: James Porter
Denise Brown and Julien Keith. Photo: James Porter

Local resident Denise Brown said she feels that events like Roll N Peace encourage pride in the neighborhood and set a positive example for youth. "My teenage grandchildren are Explorers with the 7th District. They always participate. They can't just do 'fun' things like go to Great America; they have to do community, civic things. They're also part of peer jury duty."

One of Brown's grandchildren, fifteen-year-old Julian Keith, refuted the notion that his neighborhood has to be synonymous with violence. "It wouldn't be what it is now, or what it was before, if we didn't choose to do what we were doing." Keith offered a simple solution: "Make it a better environment."

Dancing to DJ Gemini Jones' music before the ride. Photo: James Porter
Dancing to DJ Gemini Jones' music before the ride. Photo: James Porter

Officer McClain from the 7th Police District said he and other officers were there to promote trust between the police and community members. "We have over twelve police officers that are here that are on duty, as well as six that are off-duty that are just riding in it, just to show our commitment to Englewood."

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