We live in a time of great fear. In cities around the nation, people — children — cannot even walk down the street without the danger of being gunned down or knifed in the back or beaten up. People are afraid to invite mere acquaintances into their homes, let alone complete strangers. Especially if those strangers are members of a gang.
Yet one woman in Chicago is doing just that. Diane Latiker is a grandmother who has opened her home to over 1500 kids, 80% of them male, many of whom are or have been in gangs, in one of the deadliest areas of Chicago. Her program, called Kids Off the Block, began simply — she opened her doors, and let the kids in.
I invited them into my living room,” [Latiker] said. “They all started saying: ‘I want to be a doctor. I want to be a rapper. I want to be a singer.’ They didn’t want to be out here running up and down the street. They wanted to be involved in something.”
Latiker told them her house was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They could come over for food, or homework help, or just to talk about their hopes, dreams and fears. Kids Off the Block was born.
“It doesn’t matter where they come from, what they’ve done,” Latiker said. “We’ve had six gangs in my living room at one time. … But that was the safe place. And you know what? They respected that.”
I don’t know about you, but the thought of opening my doors to gang members strikes fear into my heart. It is something I would love to do, but I wonder if I could ever have the courage to do it. I worry about my family, my safety, and even my things. But here is a woman who has pushed all that aside, and is turning kids’ lives around simply by providing them a sanctuary.
Maurice Gilchrist, 15, is one teenager who credits Kids Off the Block with turning his life around. Gilchrist joined a gang when he was 12, and he says life in a gang meant looking behind his back every day.
“We always used to jump on people, rob everything, steal,” he said.
Gilchrist discovered Kids Off the Block when he went to Latiker’s house after school with a friend, Latiker’s grandson. There, Gilchrist connected with others his age, ate pizza, did his homework, and talked with Latiker, who invited him to join the group.
Today, Gilchrist’s grades have improved and he has set his sights on playing football in college. Without Latiker and her program, “I would be locked up, (or) dead, somewhere beat up, in a hospital,” he said. “You name it, I would be there. Miss Diane, she changed my life. I love her for that.”
I read stories like this and am in amazement, and am reminded once again that no matter how bad a situation may seem, or how bad a person may seem, everyone is worth saving, and all of us have a duty to try and help. We really can make a difference.
All quotes taken from the CNN article: Grandmother helping Chicago kids ‘off the block’