Families of victims of violence pray for peace in Chicago

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CHICAGO — As many people are offering silent reflections during the National Day of Prayer Thursday, a group in Chicago is offering a solemn expression of hope and heartache for victims of violence.

Family members who lost loved ones to violence gathered at 56th and Bishop on the South Side Thursday to ask for peace, both for those who have been lost, and those who are still here. On that lot, 150 crosses sit to mark each victim.

Looking out on a lawn covered with crosses, Donald Williams took a deep breath.

“It’s bad. Just looking at the souls that’s been lost,” Williams said.

One of those souls was his 13-year-old son, Deon Williams, who was gunned down in the Englewood neighborhood in March.

“He was a good kid. He liked to play basketball, track,” Donald Williams said.

Deon Williams was one of the 136 murders reported by the Chicago Police Department between January 1 and April 30 of this year. Each cross on the lot at  bears the name of one of those victims, and was placed by the same hands who crafted them.

“I wanted to include our 150 Chicagoans in our National Day of Prayer,” Greg Zanis said.

Retired carpenter Greg Zanis is on a mission of memory, using a plot of land in the heart of Englewood as both a reminder and a reproach.

“We have a problem here. We just don’t love each other enough,” Zanis said. “The challenge is for people to come down here and see this is only one quarter of the year – I’m doing the numbers here and this has just got to stop.”

Victim's advocate Pastor Donovan Price offered a prayer for peace.

“Praying for hope. New hope. Courage. Another dose of love. Unity. The theme is love and unity for the National Day of Prayer," Price said.

It’s a message that resonated deeply for lifelong Englewood resident Bonnie Booker. She offered her own sermon to the street, to the neighborhood where there have been more shootings and killings than any other in Chicago this year.

“Stop the violence. God, please stop the violence, the killing, it’s so senseless to me,” Booker said.

The senseless killings are reflected in each cross, each symbol of sorrow and expression of emotion.

“Every day is hard without him, so we came out to pray, not only for Deon, but for the other souls that’s been lost throughout these streets,” Donald Williams said.

Zanis says he’ll keep the crosses on the plot of property, which he owns, and continue to add to them throughout the year, to keep the memory of the murdered alive.

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