moord (plural moorden, diminutive moordje n)
1. murder

velden (plural form of veld n)
1. fields


Chicago is a diverse and vibrant city, home to world-class museums, internationally acclaimed music and theater, several professional sports teams, strong businesses and a beautiful lakefront setting.

It’s also one of the most violent cities in America.

The summer that we wrote these stories and made these photographs was one of most violent in more than two decades. By late summer of 2016, the number of shootings in Chicago had passed the total for all of 2015 (which, by the way, was 2988). The number of shooting fatalities was on track to double that of previous years.

The city hugs the shore of Lake Michigan, and the lakefront is home to the museums, a football stadium, beaches, luxury high-rise apartment buildings, harbors filled with boats, and sprawling parks that make it a surprisingly verdant place. But away from the lake, particularly on the south and west sides of the city, it is much grittier. Poverty, gangs, unemployment, drugs—they all create a perfect storm for violence and despair. These neighborhoods feel a world away from the city’s glittering, professionally landscaped downtown.

Summer weekends can be deadly. During one week in August as we worked on this project, 110 people were shot, 24 of them killed. In one week. That brought the number of homicides for the year up to 445. That’s right—by the 225th day of the year, 445 people had been killed in Chicago. That’s almost two people per day. That week, on Monday, nine people were killed: the deadliest day in the city in thirteen years. [1]

News reports and police say that the dramatic uptick in violence has occurred in part because of a shift in gang culture. The city’s neighborhoods, rather than being controlled by large, organized gangs, have slowly degenerated into a free-for-all in which rival factions fight over little patches of territory, or simply shoot at one another to settle even petty arguments. Showing up on the wrong block can get a person shot.

Most of the shootings occur in neighborhoods on the south and west sides, where Chicago’s poorest residents live. Roseland is one of the neighborhoods where a disproportionate number of shootings occur.

An area just under five square miles bordered by two major expressways on Chicago’s south side, Roseland was originally a Dutch enclave, settled in the 1840s. Today, it is a place without much reason for hope.

  • The unemployment rate in Roseland is 17.8 percent (2010 census data)
  • In one month in late summer 2016, there were 1.8 violent crimes per 1000 people in Roseland alone.
  • 19.5 percent of the households in Roseland are below the poverty level.
  • Per capita income in Roseland is $17,974. [2]

Chicago's Roseland Neighborhood

Chicago's Roseland Neighborhood

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In Roseland, everyone knows someone who’s been shot. In many cases, it is their own family members. Mothers and grandmothers mourn the loss of children, gunned down outside their own homes. It’s a dangerous place.

Why are these things happening? Why is Chicago so violent, particularly in neighborhoods like Roseland? Where are the guns coming from? Why do even young children settle their disputes with guns, especially when Chicago has strict gun laws? When people are sent to prison, do they come back reformed, or just better at being criminals? Does the threat of incarceration or even being killed stem the violence, or just make people more desperate?

There are huge, complicated, systemic issues: poverty, drugs, unemployment, inferior schools, racism, corruption in the criminal justice system, parenting issues, family breakdown. There are no easy answers to the violence. It is a tangled, complex problem that seems to be getting worse.

These incredibly difficult questions raise even deeper ones: have we lost hope? Should we simply give up? Why is our city so violent? Can anyone do anything to make a difference? Can Roseland change? What will bring healing and restoration to this community?

In the middle of this violent neighborhood, at 108th and Michigan Avenue, stands a solid brick building: Roseland Christian Ministries. For more than a century, it was home to The Back To God Hour, which was the media arm of the Christian Reformed Church. (Which has since become Back To God Ministries and has relocated to Palos Heights, IL.)

However, Roseland Christian Ministries remains a beacon of hope in the neighborhood. The Ministry runs a women’s shelter and a food pantry. Children from the neighborhood show up after school to play basketball in the gym, to attend tutoring sessions. The Ministry offers meals for the community including a daily lunch.

Roseland Christian Ministries offers a free day camp for younger children during the summer while school is not in session. Roseland Christian Ministries has youth programs including arts programs, Bible studies and more. The Men of Honor program, for example, mentors and guides young men ages 13 to 18, and challenges them to live at a higher standard than the culture around them.

There are no easy answers to the questions, no simple solutions to the incredibly complex problems. However, nearly all of the people we interviewed have found something else inside this big brick building. Here, they know that they are not alone. Here, in the midst of the pain and struggle, they find encouragement, friendship, support, strength, faith, and yes, even hope. It’s a beautiful picture. 

—Keri Wyatt Kent