On the South Side, a New Playground is a Symbol for Peace
In the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Pullman, kids ride their bikes down the streets. Neighbors stop to chat as they walk their dogs down the sidewalks. To an outsider, it seems like ordinary summertime in the city. But for Pullman, the ordinary is extraordinary. For years the neighborhood has been plagued with gun violence—residents have not experienced this sense of peace and quiet in more than a decade. And it all started with the ring of a doorbell.
Sherman Scullark has been living in the community his entire life, and last year he decided he had had enough. He was tired of the senseless, ongoing violence—and he decided he was going to be the one to stand up and make the change himself. Sherman showed up on the doorstep of Detective Vivian Williams, a trusted police officer and 32-year resident of the community. He asked for her help in putting an end to the shootings.
The result of Sherman’s courageous initiative is a truce between the rival gangs whose feuding has resulted in scores of deaths and countless injuries over the past several years. In celebration of the peace agreement and in a nod to its power, the greater community is rallying around the building of a neighborhood playground.
Craig Nash, Life Coach and Community Organizer with Chicago CRED, sat down with Scullark and Detective Williams to talk about their roles in the truce, the excitement around the playground, and how it symbolizes hope for a new era in Pullman and across Chicago.
Craig Nash: Since I've been around the community it's been quiet and the block is peaceful. Tell me a little bit about what was the neighborhood like maybe a year ago or even more when maybe things weren't so nice.
Sherman Scullark: Before, there was a lot of gang banging going on, a lot of shootings going back and forth. It was just your average neighborhood in Chicago that's plagued with all types of violence.
Detective Williams: It was not a, let’s say, safe place for the children to play—a lot of children were afraid to be outside. You would maybe see a couple of kids, but for the most part the kids would stay either in their backyards, or you wouldn’t see them riding bikes and things like that. Within the last several months you see more children riding bikes, you see more families riding bikes now. More people are walking their dogs. You just see more people outside doing what people should be doing in the city of Chicago.
Craig: Tell me about how you came together to say “Hey, it's time for a change.”
Detective Williams: Sherman came to me with the idea. I live in the neighborhood, and he actually was brave enough to come up on my porch and ring my doorbell and say, “I need to talk to you.” I invited him in and he started to tell me how he was tired of the shooting that's been going on for 15 or 20 years.
He said there was no rhyme or reason behind it, it was just something that was continuously happening because it was what they did—that the two rival gangs shot at each other when they saw each other, because it was what they did. Sherman wanted to take it upon himself to make it stop. He wanted the children to be able to come outside and play, and he said that he did not want to feel like he needed a gun to walk around or drive around in his neighborhood. And he just wanted to become a part of the solution.
Craig: Oftentimes guys want to make a change, but sometimes they don't have the tools or they don't have resources—they don't have anything to turn to. Detective Williams, I heard you had some contact or you reached out to somebody and brought them to the table. How did that come about?
Detective Williams: I spoke with the commander of the fifth district also what are called DIO's, or district intelligence officers. I told them that Sherman had come by and that he wanted to make a change within the community. Commander Douglas of course said, “Well that's exactly what we want to happen, so let's work with him.”
Sherman went to the rival gang himself and came back to me—he said I was moving slow, he only gave me like a day! He came back and said that these guys want the same thing we want. He said, "We have a truce. [As] long as they don't shoot at us, we won't shoot at them. We're going to be able to let our children walk the neighborhood and play in the parks. No one is going to shoot at each other." I said, “Wow.”
Craig: Sherman, did somebody go with you?
Sherman: No, I actually went by myself and talked to the guys—no guns, nothing like that, I just went over there with just faith. I had faith that it would work. I approached the guys and we sat down and talked about it, and they [were] all for it. The peace treaty has been on for about seven months now, and [there’s] been no violence going on, no shooting or anything.
Craig: Amen. I love it. After the truce, you guys were also introduced to Chicago CRED, which led to the idea for the playground. How did that come about?
Detective Williams: I was introduced to Chicago CRED through Deputy Chief Watson and Commander Douglas. I was asked to be the liaison between the police department and Chicago CRED to try to help bring down the violence in [neighboring] Roseland. I went to a couple of Sherman's friends and I talked to them about Chicago CRED. When I explained it to him, he said “I'm all in.”
Sherman: We started meeting at our local church. Detective Williams introduced us to [Chicago CRED President] Arne Duncan and everything just spiraled. I wanted something for the community, so I asked him if he would get a park for our kids to play in, because they don’t have one.
Detective Williams: Today, children would have to cross 103rd Street if they wanted to get to a park—and sometimes some of the children are a little small and crossing guards are gone after school is closed, so to see a kid try to cross 103rd Street to go over to play in the park was somewhat dangerous.
The children are really excited. You see the kids now over where the park is being built because the story is getting around the neighborhood now that there's going to be a park there. You see the kids going by, looking and asking when is the park going to start, when are we going to have the park. We've been telling them that it's going to be August 10th so everyone is really excited about this. I'm just happy that it was the guys in the community that made this happen.
Craig: It's an energy that I can feel in the neighborhood. You've got a park going in where there was once violence. You have a peace treaty right now. You've got a playground going in now. What's the vision for the community?
Sherman: To continue to keep the peace strong. We want to keep the peace going.
Detective Williams: Other people see what they've done and they want to become a part of the positive. The community police office in the fifth district is working extremely hard to unite the community and the police. They have us do a lot together. We've got community. We've got police officers. We've got a lot of different individuals coming out to help build this park. It's really a joint effort.
Craig: That's exciting. I heard police officers are volunteering on August 10th. Is anybody else involved in this project?
Detective Williams: The alderman's office is coming out to help build. This has become contagious. Everyone's caught it.
Detective Williams: These are the same young men that I have arrested before. But when I arrested them, they were always treated with respect and dignity. They may have gotten out of jail the next day and they would walk past and say “Hey, Officer Williams,” but they knew when they did something wrong that they had to face the consequences. Behind that, they still got a very stern talking to. [We’d tell them], “This is not what I expect from you. It still doesn't change the fact that you're human and you make mistakes. We want you to correct those mistakes and continue to move on and we can still coexist."