CHICAGO — Starting with a simple desire to keep her children safe, Roseland mother of eight Diane Latiker began to open her home to teens to serve as a mentor and role model for local children.
Her early actions eventually led Latiker to create the non-profit “Kids Off the Block.”
It began in 2003 when Latiker found herself struggling to connect to her then 13-year-old daughter Aisha. Struggling to relate, Latiker decided to invite Aisha’s friends over just to chat, while being determined to keep the children out of trouble.
“She just wanted to keep up with me and my friends and see what I was doing so I didn’t get in any trouble,” Aisha said.
Latiker’s objective was to keep local kids focused on schoolwork and off the street, but her ambition required money. Eager to make a difference, she sold her family TV to the shock of her husband.
With the $600 she made from the sale, Latiker purchased computers and printers and began to quickly spread the word.
“Within a week there were kids knocking on my door whom I did not know,” Latiker said.
Several children asked her for help nearly immediately, with children asking for help getting out of a gang.
As the word quickly spread, “Miss Diane” was the person you went to for help with homework, a heart-to-heart talk, or just some advice. The kids instantly gravitated.
“Before I knew it, there were 75 kids in my living room day and night. The neighbors were calling the police on me,” Latiker said.
Just a year later, Diane Latiker made it official, transforming her home and most of her block into the “Kids Off the Block” non-profit, right at the corner of 116th Street and Michigan Avenue, complete with a basketball court across the street.
Diane’s work and commitment to the community is perhaps even greater in times of hardship, as Latiker has witnessed several children of her neighborhood lose their lives to gun violence.
Following the shooting of Blair Holt on a CTA bus in 2007, Latiker began a memorial site for local victims of gun violence. Today, nearly 700 names are displayed.
“It literally drains your soul. Because you wish you could have done more,” Latiker said.
While the sorrow is great for Diane Latiker and others in the community, Latiker said she’s found her passion, and continued interactions with the children she’s known have rewarded her.
31-year-old JuJuan White is one of many local residents to have been impacted by Miss Diane, who said she is a mother figure to him.
“When it comes to the youth, she won’t back down,” White said. “She’s relentless. She just wants to see everybody get out.”
Over the years, Latiker has received recognition for the work in her community, and thanks to donations, recently bought the building next door. Latiker plans to make it a children’s technology center.
Miss Diane also emphasized that you don’t need to have a lot of money to make a big difference.
“Whatever you feel is not right. And you feel somebody needs to do something. Get up, don’t wait on a big building and a million dollars, just help,” Latiker said.
Diane Latiker recently released a book “Kids Off the Block” telling her story, and she estimates she has helped over 3,000 kids.