DANVILLE – Getting neighbors together to talk about community issues and find solutions to problems is easier said than done sometimes.
A new group called Concerned Citizens of Danville plans its first meeting event at noon Saturday at Ellsworth Park, 100 W. Ellsworth St. The experience is expected to begin by 12:30 p.m.
Organizers with the group and of the event, which is to be a solutions-focused conversation on gun violence, gangs, drugs and other community issues and keeping children safe, are residents Bobby Szymanski and Julie Carlson. Carlson said Teresa Taylor, who has been involved with the local Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America group, also has been part of the process.
They are asking “families, businesses and neighborhoods affected by murders, drugs, gangs, rape and any other issues that need to be addressed to help take back our city. Please wear something blue to help solidify our solidarity. (There will be) food, neighbors, conversation, fun and more.”
Szymanski told aldermen recently that he and Carlson have lived in Danville two years. He said they came here from the south side of Chicago and have watched local activist groups fold and fail.
“I started a new group. The people are not being heard,” Szymanski said about the group Concerned Citizens of Danville.
A goal with the group and its first event is to get people to communicate and get to know their neighbors, he said.
“I’m giving the option for people to come assemble and bring up ideas and not be afraid to speak their minds …,” he said, adding that residents should feel comfortable with police officers and others to tell somebody where they’re having problems and are seeing activities.
The community is invited to attend the Saturday event, which Carlson said will be a two-hour experience.
There will be speakers and other activities to break the ice and encourage people to speak out. There also will be time just for neighbors to talk to each other and interact with other community members during the approximately total four-hour event.
There will be signs in the park to the pavilion.
In addition to the public, Mayor Rickey Williams Jr., aldermen, public safety officials and others have been invited.
Szymanski said this isn’t just an east side problem.
“There are crimes going on in other areas ... It is not a segregated north side, east side, south side, west side. This is one community,” he said.
He said the breaking point for him was when a man trying to make a living for his family, pizza delivery driver Terry Gaines, was murdered.
Carlson said children should be able to play outside this summer. Families shouldn’t be worried about safety.
“Our children deserve to play outside safely in every block,” she said.
She said it’s ingrained in her to be involved in the community in which she lives, and she teaches her children the same thing.
“I raise my children to water the grass where you live,” Carlson said stating the euphemism.
She said it’s an obligation to her to make her community a better place.
This first event will be something to build on, Szymanski added, saying they also want to have another event at the end of the summer to see results. Other sponsored events could be a fishing derby or bowling event for children.
According to Szymanski and Carlson, what makes this event different is, while there will be guest speakers, the event will use a format to facilitate discussion between neighbors. It will be an opportunity for the community to share in a conversation about violence concerns that is solutions focused. There will also be follow up after the event. This is not a one-time only outreach focused on speakers addressing an audience.
“We will be giving away up to 50 blue light bulbs to be used as porch lights with a commitment request. These were generously donated by Lowe’s. We are working to try to obtain more so there will be enough for everyone.
1. Commit to spending at least an hour or two on your front porch being present in your neighborhood.
2. Talk to at least two other neighbors on your block about the concept.
3. Check in on our community page once a week. Update neighbors about your block. Let neighbors know what has changed, if you see any changes in the frequency of criminal activity, what you think could make this more effective and how all of our neighbors can support you if this has not been effective.
4. If you see something, say something. Report suspicious activity by calling 911 or 217-446-TIPS (this is fully anonymous as calls are routed outside the country).
They also ask that neighbors keep in mind that no effort is a guaranteed overnight successful solution and this will not cease all activity. This is one step, a first step, to decrease levels of criminal activity at a crucial time in our community — summer.
“This is a start to increasing peace in our community by watching out for one another and presenting a united front. Together we can make a difference,” Carlson said.
“The more people you know, you can make change,” Szymanski added. “It really does take a community to raise kids.”
For more information about Saturday’s event and the group, there is a Concerned Citizens of Danville Facebook page.