In April 2010, lawmakers in Springfield were making headlines with a suggestion that the National Guard be brought in to address rising violence in Chicago. Claudette Redic recalls sitting at home feeling helpless. Then came a call for women to gather in a show of solidarity.
Phillip Jackson, executive director of the Black Star Project, a Chicago-based education reform group, was appealing to women to harness their collective power to restore their communities—in much the same way his group had worked with men in the past.
Redic and nearly 100 other women heeded the call and began holding a series of meetings at the offices of the Black Star Project. The ever-growing group of women has since taken on a biblical name, the Deborah Movement, and embarked on a spirited mission to rein in violence.
Redic says the Deborah Movement offers its support for women in the community and asks for women to help by giving back—when they can and however they can.
They use principles that celebrate African-American culture and history with the goal of building community ties. The women do outreach at bus and train stops to recruit members and show up in support of family members who lost loved ones to violence.
A key component of the Deborah Movement in Chicago is working with young women—mentoring and counseling them on common challenges facing adolescents. The group has visited more than 50 schools since its inception, and has established mentoring programs to help address issues like school violence and teen pregnancies.
The Deborah Movement has grown to 240 Chicago members and has chapters in the south suburbs and on the West Side. Other Deborah groups have sprouted up across the country following in the footsteps of the Chicago women. After a young boy was murdered in Gary, Ind., Chicago’s Deborah Movement went down and participated in a march against violence and met with local community leaders. Now, Gary has its own Deborah chapter.
The Chicago Reporter sat down with Redic to discuss the impact of the Deborah Movement in the communities.
What are some of the actions the Deborah Movement has taken together as a group?
For our very first march, we walked to [former Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department] Jody Weis’ office and tried to give him a statement, our antiviolence piece. The police have their tactics, but a lot of people taken into custody are young people, and there’s no advocate per se for them. So we went asking that the community have a voice. We as women feel that we certainly have a right to know where our kids are, what’s going on, how long they will be held.
They wouldn’t even let us in the door. We kept marching and chanting, and all of a sudden they sent a sergeant out to take our statement because we had a written statement. I don’t know if Jody ever got that, but it was taken in to the police headquarters, and that was our very first move. From there, we have just been moving. We feel as passionate about the violence in the schools and the young people who are killed.
It was, from my heart, really good to see the community. We hear so much negative stuff, especially in the African-American world, and to see these women, young, old, saying, ‘We are sick of this! We believe we can do something.’ I think we have produced results in terms of community awareness—to know that we are sincere in our endeavors to support our community and to affect change.
Who are the leaders of the Deborah Movement?
We do not hold to the traditional hierarchy of corporate America. It is whoever steps up that’s the leader. You are speaking to me today because I have taken on the administrative role, but that could have been anyone who stepped up and said, ‘I’m going to step up; I’m going to prepare an agenda; I’m going to get a guest’—that sort of thing.
We had our first orientation, because as we have grown, women are like, ‘What do you expect of us? What do you want of us?’ During the orientation, we do a large piece on the volunteerism: What does it take? The first thing of all is commitment. Then it is your availability. Can you keep your word? Because once a Deborah signs, it’s up to you to execute. You’ve got to call, you’ve got to show up, you’ve got to do promotion stuff.
That has given us a core group of people who are rather strong. They have the skills and the willingness to do things.
What is the importance of focusing on women?
We came to the conclusion that the most effective action we could take is to work with the family. The women know what’s going on in the house. Good, bad or indifferent—she can tell. We felt that if we could get to the female in the house, we might have greater impact in terms of the myriad of programs we offer families.
Every time the women have come out, the men have followed us. We marched to Gary, and there were so many men there. I think the Deborah Movement has ignited the men. I’m pleased with the male response. We do not exclude men; we do not hate men. We want our men with us. We have included them at every opportunity, and they have stepped up.
How do you work with the families of victims of community violence?
At one point, it seemed like we were continuously visiting on behalf of some victim. We offered comfort—perhaps bring a meal on the day of the shooting. On the days of the funeral, we have tried to be there in some regard, to offset some of the things they had to do. I think we even bought them some clothes for the family members of the victims.
How can the Deborah Movement make an impact in Chicago?
We need more parents—not police. That’s my position.
Right here on this corner, [at East 35th Street and South Dr. Martin Luther King Drive], when the schools get out, it’s chaos. There are three high schools, and they all get here at this bus stop. The kids are buck-wild, the police are buck-wild and the community is buck-wild because they are blocking the sidewalk.
I want us to get out on this very corner and stand. I know it makes a difference, if you have different people. Because a lot of time, you can just address the young people.
We as the Deborah Movement are trying to stand in the gap where parents have had shortfalls, where the community has had shortfalls.
We hope that as [women] become more involved with the Deborah Movement, they become more empowered. As they can see, women like us—we’re nobody special. We’ve decided we are going to do what we can do in our community. With so many people not working, why can’t you volunteer? Why can’t you stand on that corner? Why can’t you go see that Johnny gets to school safely?
What are some future goals for the Deborah Movement?
As we grow this female mentorship program, we don’t have enough for all the girls who are in need. We’ve got young women calling in, ‘Can I get a mentor? Can I get a mentor?’ They want it. We don’t have the wherewithal or capability to do it.
Another piece I see us addressing is this bullying. We had a girl come in—she’s not in the Deborah Club; she just knew where we were. She was devastated that day. They had cut her locker open and taken some things. She has a sexual orientation that’s different. She was just devastated that day. She too was fairly new at the school. Today, this is bullying that we as adults should not tolerate.
We have many, many issues, and my hope is that we address some of them. Our goal forthcoming is going to be to recruit more women so we can address things like bullying. We are working hard this summer because we know that this is when most of the violence and disruption come. There is something for them to do—we just need to organize it.
To learn more about the Deborah Movement, go to www.blackstarproject.org.