A thousand men of action

St. Sabina’s Catholic Church, the monolithic edifice of gothic architecture on 78th and Racine, occupies an entire city block, its sheer magnitude rendering it virtually impossible to see three corners of the building at once. Last Friday night, the folks at St. Sabina’s took on an opponent that felt nearly as immense as the cathedral they met in: gang violence.

Forty-one people were shot last week in Chicago in a time span of less than twenty-six hours. The event “1,000 Men of Action” was held in response, with the premise being something of a call-to-arms for responsible men in the community. “This is not just another feel-good meeting,” began community activist Philip Jackson, a short, wiry, African-American man who bears an almost serendipitous resemblance to Gandhi. Jackson is the founder of the Black Star Project, a program that aims to eliminate the racial gap in academic achievement by improving the home lives of minority children. An essential component of this task is reestablishing the nuclear family among blacks in America, whose domestic values, Jackson contended, were the envy of every race in the country only twenty or thirty years ago. He was there to convince a thousand men to volunteer to be mentors for local youth.

To demonstrate his point, Jackson screened for the attendants a short, low-budget documentary film entitled “Men II Boyz.” Basically a montage of interviews with community members, the film’s compassion made up for what it lacked in polish and substance. Boy after boy conceded some heavily shielded grief regarding his absent father, and man after man imparted words of fatherly wisdom. After the film, putting mentors and mentees together was more urgent than ever.
The effect was powerful. A chaotic shuffle of prospective volunteers rose throughout the church, and so did the crowd’s optimism and enthusiasm. The cathedral, which has a capacity of about twelve hundred, was packed. If there’s strength in numbers, strength in passion, strength in ideas–or, for that matter, in square-footage–it seems that St. Sabina’s will be remembered as the bigger contender.