Chicago activist priest Michael Pfleger said society lacks the will to help inner city young men typically demonized as gangbangers and murders in a speech Thursday night at Holy Family Catholic Community in Inverness.
Pfleger's appearance at Holy Family tied into the church's Lenten social justice project and participation in the Archdiocese of Chicago's violence prevention initiatives. About 200 people attended Pfleger's speech and a brief question-and-answer session.
Pfleger, senior pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina on the city's South Side, discussed inner city violence and how the church's Strong Futures program has helped at-risk men ages 17 to 26 find jobs and turn around their lives since starting a little more than a year ago. He said young men of color too often are dismissed.
"What's lacking is the will in society," Pfleger said. "These young brothers on the street who we've demonized as gangbangers and murders and shooters are young men who are a son or brother, who are fathers or cousins who are part of our community, part of our city, part of our country."
As of Thursday, Pfleger said, 44 of 82 in the Strong Futures program had full-time jobs. He said five work part time, seven are in construction trade programs with Com Ed and 26 are unemployed.
"These 44 of the first 50 (participants) -- people said they were going to end up being shot or in jail -- are now independent paying taxes, taking care of their families," he told the crowd.
In response to an audience question, Pfleger said city government's neglect of certain neighborhoods, such as St. Sabina's in Auburn Gresham, is one cause of the violence.
"I have not seen a new building built in my neighborhood in nine years," he said. "Plus, Chicago has been one of the most segregated cities in the country. So, you put two lions in a cage and you don't feed them, what's going to happen? One's going to eat the other one, one's going to kill the other."
Holy Family's pastor, the Rev. Terry Keehan, said he's known Pfleger since both men were young Catholic priests. Keehan opened the evening with a prayer that had an anti-violence message.
"Loving God, you place a desire for peace in each one of our hearts and each one of our souls," Keehan said. "But sometimes, because we're human, we reach out, we express emotions and violence.