Pastor John Hannah of the New Life Covenant Church Southeast and hundreds of activists gathered at the Prayer on the 9 event to march and pray on Saturday in the name of anti-violence and community development.
On Saturday afternoon on the corner of 79th and Greenview, drivers and passersby witnessed something strange and wonderful: Hundreds of people in red shirts hugging each other in front of a large stage.
Strangers embraced and laughed like old friends at the behest of Pastor John Hannah of the New Life Covenant Church Southeast. He stood on the stage and encouraged everyone to reach out to one another and connect.
“Today is about family,” Hannah said. “We’re a big family today. So, do me a favor: I want you to turn around and introduce yourself to at least three people around you.”
The moment set the tone for the eighth annual Prayer on the 9. The yearly event featured a two-mile march down 79th street, as well as speakers to protest and call attention to gun violence in Chicago. It was also an opportunity to raise awareness for community-building initiatives such as Art in Motion (AIM), a South Shore charter school scheduled to open in fall 2019.
On stage Hannah raised awareness for these initiatives while also urging the community to reinvest in itself.
“If you own a business, I want you to begin to pray about moving your business into this community,” Hannah said. “If you see vacancies, I need you to move your business into there.”
Hannah noted the newly constructed church on 7700 South Greenwood Avenue slated to open later this year will help drive more people into the community. The initiative aims to provide a bigger space for worship for the large congregation as well as a place for community events such as plays and concerts.
“When we move into our new building, thousands of people will be hitting this community on a regular basis,” Hannah said. “We are not just building a church.”
Joining Hannah was a lineup of speakers including Illinois State Representative Marcus Evans, Jr., Director of Community Policing, Glen Brooks; Commander Muhammad of the Chicago Police Department; and Cook County Board Commissioner Bill Lowry.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the pre-march events was an appearance by hip-hop artist and philanthropist Common. The Calumet Heights native returned to his community in the South Side to promote the AIM charter school, to which he has made a financial pledge.
“We know this school can be something that can really enhance our community,” Common told the crowd. “I’ve been blessed to have been able to go out and see things and I have to bring it back home to our children so that they can go farther than I have.”
As joyful as the event and march was, it was still a stark reminder to many in attendance of the lives lost each day to gun violence. The hundreds of attendees donned red shirts and paper signs with the names of friends, loved ones, and family who have been impacted by gun violence written on them.
Chicago native Yolanda Adams was one of those in attendance wearing a red shirt as she carried a sign that said, “Protect us with better gun policies.” She told the Defendershe traveled all the way from the west suburbs to march in honor of her nephew and two cousins who were killed due to gun violence.
“We’re praying for the people that have been affected by gun violence,” Adams said.“I’ve lost three people to gun violence in a three-year period. It’s a personal matter.”
Tommy Collins, a 28-year-old Chicago poet and speaker for the event, saidthat the event helped shine a light on a host of issues directly impacting the Black community.
“There are a lot of societal constraints against people of color,” Collins said. “There are a lot of adversities for us before we even step foot into a classroom or the workplace. A lot of issues are at play like gang violence, drug violence, a lack of black men being at a home, single mothers who have to raise their families on their own.”
For him, Prayer on the 9 was an opportunity for the South Side community to come together and support each other in difficult times through faith.
“It’s so important that we as the Black community give back,” he said. “That we stay aware of what plagues our community, but also that we are active when it comes to trying to address those issues that we struggle with. It’s the start of a very difficult conversation. But we want people to know that we are here to help. We’re here to support.”