A memorial on the far South Side that started with just 30 stones in 2007 now holds 220 to represent Chicago’s murdered victims up to age 24.
Diane Latiker, founder of the non-profit Kids of the Block, hopes that those who walk or drive by the growing stone memorial at 11627 S. Michigan Ave. get the message: “It’s one simple set of words –– we’re losing a whole generation.”
While many more stones are needed at the memorial to reflect the slain youths, she hopes the time will soon come when additional stones aren’t required at the Roseland site.
Once a licensed cosmetologist who enjoyed participating in activities with her youngest daughter and her daughter’s friends, Latiker has now expanded her outreach and impacted hundreds of young peoples’ lives by doing many of the same things.
K.O.B. started seven years ago in her home when Latiker said her mother, an evangelist, saw something in her that she could not.
“Diane why don’t you do something with those kids. They like you and respect you,” Latiker recalled her mother asking several years ago.
“I didn’t want to do it and I prayed about it,” Latiker told the Defender.
Eventually she made the move to the streets in July of 2003 where she spoke with about 10 youths on the block. She noticed that many had many issues with school and home life, and violence. She invited them in her home.
This awareness led to discovering the teens’ passions and assisting them in reaching their goals.
“I asked them what they wanted to do with themselves, what was their passion,” she said.
She went on to list their dreams, which ranged from singer, rapper to doctor and lawyer.
“We definitely had an impact on the school system with the young people because [now] they go to school and a lot of them went back to school that were not in school. We had 10 college students for the first time,” she said proudly.
K.O.B. started with 10 youths and has grown to 300. The organization offers mentoring, sports and out-of-state trips, among other services.
“Just opening our doors is impacting lives; we know we’ve made an impact on those young people and this community.”
While Latiker receives local funding from various sources, additional funding is sorely needed, she said, adding another challenge is the violence that draws those seeking help back into the streets.
“When we have made one step [forward], violence happens [which forces us two steps back]. We’re trying to take young people away from the thought pattern that it takes violence to solve a problem,” she said.
Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender