Take a trip down memory lane as we step back into North Lawndale’s past and examine the Conservative Vice Lords, a gang and community group that former members say helped redefine, for a time, what it meant to be a gang.
From 1967 to 1969, the group was incorporated as a non-profit and worked with organizations, such as the YMCA of Metro Chicago and the American Cancer Society, to help what was then also a struggling community.
Benny Lee, a former Vice Lord and CeaseFire violence interrupter and now a lecturer on the history of Chicago gangs at North Eastern Illinois University, helped bring together an art collection and interactive show based on archival material. (See some exhibits below.)
“The Conservative Vice Lords turned a lot of young people around,” said Lee, “although many people say it wasn’t real, that gangs can’t turn that around. But they were doing work to change conditions in the community.”
The exhibition is now on at the Art in These Times space located in the offices of the magazine In These Times and runs through Dec. 31.
It has first-hand source material about the philanthropic projects sponsored by the Vice Lords, photos, and a number of interactive exhibits to encourage a dialogue on current problems and what social roles gangs play in low-income communities.
“North Lawndale has a partially known history,” said Lisa Junkin, the education coordinator at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, which helped put on the exhibition. “We plan on using that history to engage people today – how can we encourage [people now in gangs] to make positive change in their communities?”
Authority figures now are “trying to lock the problem up,” added Lee, “but my question is how do we work with the problem?”