When we hear about the ever-increasing violence in our world, many of us naturally ask:
“What can be done to stop this?”
“Is there anything I can do?”
I know these are questions I’ve pondered when it comes to the challenges that have ensued from the violence impacting the great city of Chicago.
In many ways, the challenges of inner-city Chicago (which is less than fifty miles from my home) and those occurring in the East Bank seem to be equally removed from my day to day. But when a friend asked me if I would be interested in hearing about how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could help provide solutions for inner city Chicago, I was intrigued. Soon after the question was posed, I jumped in my car with my team and headed downtown to meet Pastor Chris Harris on the South Side of Chicago. What I learned was surprising — not only did it expand my understanding, but it gave me a new perspective.
Pastor Harris, a well-known faith leader in Bronzeville, the historic and often violent South Side neighborhood, had been trying to find a solution for the violence and its devastating aftermath in his community for years. One issue was that many of the many of the community members were hesitant to use mental health professionals to help with any individual or systemic trauma related issues. Instead, they preferred going to their faith leaders for advice and assistance, even though most of these leaders were ill-equipped to effectively offer psychological counsel in the face of consistent marginalization, trauma, and violence. While they could offer wise spiritual counsel, they weren’t formally trained counselors, and the issues facing their communities went beyond the scope of their knowledge and skill.
On a trip to Israel in 2012, Pastor Harris made a paradigm-shifting discovery. He learned of an organization called NATAL: Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War that was doing work along the Israeli and Palestinian border with families and individuals who had been affected by the violence, tragedy, and stress of the ongoing conflict. Harris was immediately intrigued by their approach to serving families with preventative and post-trauma support. More importantly, he was impressed by the results they were achieving.
The concept of looking at a particular situation and applying the respective approach to another (similar) scenario isn’t new, but this correlation was unique. A community leader, desperate for ways to help his community heal, visits a conflict-ridden region halfway around the world that has not only developed solutions but are getting results. Here, at last, were some possible answers and a path forward. He envisioned bringing this same model to his community, other Chicago neighborhoods, and even beyond.
With a newfound approach, Pastor Harris came home determined to adapt the same trauma counseling methods used in war-torn Israel to his Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago, a community that experiences the ravages of losing loved ones to violence on a daily basis. The Community’s new TURN (The Urban Resilience Network) Center is already training faith leaders to become counselors, with plans to expand the program to other neighborhoods and Chicago schools.
The more I learned, the more inspired my team and I were to work alongside Pastor Harris and the TURN Center community to help tell their story. By doing so, we are hopeful and excited to see how TURN Center can impact some of Chicago’s inner-city challenges. As the TURN Center becomes a reality, it’s a great reminder to never limit where you look for answers to some of your biggest challenges — you might just find them in an unlikely place (a world away).