Anti-violence activist Diane Latiker (pictured) was excited the other day as she showed a visitor around her modest one-story headquarters in the heart of the Roseland community on Chicago South Side.
She’s excited about providing a free Thanksgiving Dinner to teens on Saturday, November 17, at Christian Fenger Academy High School. Latiker plans to do so through her 9-year-old nonprofit, Kids Off the Block, which last year served more than 500 teens and their families, she told NewsOne. Besides donations, families throughout the community plan to prepare meals for the event.
“Last year, Isiah Thomas donated turkeys,” the Mother of eight beamed as she mentioned the retired NBA player. “We fed so many children and their families. It was great. I started it five years ago because so many kids were coming to me and telling me they didn’t have Thanksgiving Dinner. We hope to beat last year’s numbers.”
Her excitement outshines the harsh glare of the reality of her community, which has high-unemployment and poverty rates. The community, known as the “Wild 100s,” is one of the South Side areas where President Barack Obama cut his teeth on organizing in the 1980s.
This year, the Wild 100s helped pave the way for Chicago by delivering its 450th homicide of 2012, according to RedEye Chicago, which tracks homicides in the city. The city outpaced last year’s toll of 444 killings during the same period.
The violence is propelled in part by members of cliques, the new face of gangs who navigate their turf by overtaking blocks and corners instead of commanding large territories. Amid the crackle of gunfire, they kill for turf on pockmarked blocks awash in subprime housing and trash-strewn vacant lots. If innocent victims get caught in the crosshairs, well, that is just par for the course. These disaffected youth bypass school and so-called 9-to-5 jobs for drug dealing because they think the money is better.
But Latiker, who has lived in the community for 24 years, is undeterred by the statistics.
That is why she is serving Thanksgiving Dinner at Fenger High School. It is a symbolic expression of not giving in to the cleaving violence of the community. Fenger was burned in to the nation’s conscious following the 2009 videotaped beating death of Derrion Albert, a sophomore.
Watch news coverage of Albert’s sad ending here:
“We don’t have to give in to the violence,” said Latiker.
Since its inception, she says that her charity has served as a safe haven for youth seeking shelter away from the violence of the community. The group provides tutoring mentoring, and training in drama, music and sports, among other things. Mostly during the summer months, she travels with the teens to help them escape sweltering heat and violence. For older teens, she helps with job-readiness training, including computer skills.
Over the years, she has won accolades for her work. Latiker was featured on ABC’s “Secret Millionaire,” where Chicago-area businessman Steve Kaplan volunteered at the charity for a week and he built basketball courts for the group. In 2011, she was named a CNN Hero.