Chicago conversations on MLK Day lay groundwork to rebuild battered trust

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Confidentiality. Respect. Honesty. Inclusivity. These are vital to building trust among people, and they were the ground rules for Chicago’s “peace circle” conversations hosted by Public Allies and others that brought more than 140 people together in January.

Outside the temperature hovered around 0 degrees, but inside Chicago’s South Shore Cultural Center, 140 people gathered to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through the warmth of human conversation.

Among the attendees were a dozen members of the Chicago Police Department, an organization that in the last year has found itself under intense media scrutiny for a series of scandals concerning alleged abuses of power.

The event, organized through a partnership between Public Allies Chicago, Community Justice for Youth Institute, and Bridging the Divide Program, presented a daylong opportunity for Chicago youth, community members, and police officers to build trust by participating in confidential small-group conversations, also known as “peace circles.”


A Chicago Police Officer has opportunity to listen to a community member’s point of view.

“We don’t want to pretend that these conversations will solve the problem,” says Cory Muldoon, Public Allies Chicago Deputy Director. “But this is definitely a part of the process, and they help all of us to identify the realities that need to be addressed.

“We chose to honor the legacy of Dr. King by bringing people together and allowing them to communicate with each other in ways that are not possible in other settings.”

Kathy Bankhead, a former prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, expressed optimism about the power of the conversations to sow a small seed of trust among differing groups.

“I think that this conversation,” she says, “knowing what it’s like from the police officer’s perspective, learning what it’s like from the community’s perspective, the young person’s perspective, what it feels like on the street for both those parties, and having us all come together to talk about that, I think that that really is the beginning of making a difference.”

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Our AmeriCorps Allies Trina Reynolds-Tyler and Kahari Sylvian-Blackburn participated in the daylong peace circles. Trina: “It was good to hear police officers, U Chicago social work students, young people in guidance programs, all in the same room and talking about their vision for our community.” Kahari: “Today was very positive, it gave a lot of different generations a platform to speak on the same topic together, and relate to each other.”

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After Army, young mother finds new inspiration as a Public Ally

Graduation from Basic training 2003

Ingrid Hachmeister, center, with father Kevin Osborne and mother Nancy Randall.

When Ingrid Hachmeister signed up for the U.S. Army after high school, she scored so high on the military’s aptitude test that the recruiter told her point-blank: “You can do anything you want. Your options are wide open.”

An adventurous 20-year-old woman who felt the pull of patriotism in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, Ingrid signed up for one of the military’s most dangerous jobs — explosive ordnance technician — the same work dramatized in the film “The Hurt Locker.”

She approached this new challenge with gusto. “When you come in, you have this great ideal of how life is going to be,” says Ingrid, who is now a mother and an AmeriCorps Ally serving in Central Florida. “I was like, ‘I’m a woman, and I’ll show what women are made of!'”

“But then I started to get the first experiences of not being an equal — or rather, of not being seen or treated as an equal.”

Ingrid had joined the Army’s explosive ordnance program just as it began accepting female soldiers. The job of handling unexploded bombs, land mines, and “highly classified things that can kill you” was stressful and the technical challenges were big. What’s more, she hadn’t fully developed the coping mechanisms necessary to succeed inside of what had until then been a male-only environment.

“I experienced a lot of undue negative attention,” says Ingrid, who in 2012 was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of military sexual trauma (MST) she experienced. “I was a great soldier, but [explosive ordnance technician] was not the job for me.”

Six months into the training, she asked to be transferred. Yet a new setback came when she was re-assigned by superiors to train as a truck driver.

“I went from scoring so well I could choose anything,” Ingrid says, “to doing something that anyone could do.”

She was stationed in South Korea for the remainder of her military tenure. “I look back now and can see that I didn’t have any coping mechanisms to fall back on,” Ingrid says. “I loved my co-workers, and I wouldn’t change anything because I learned a lot about myself, but I felt very isolated.”

Ingrid had joined the Army out of a sense of adventure, a willingness to serve her country, and because she saw it as an opportunity to have a steady paycheck while earning money for college. But those years left her feeling, in some important ways, more lost than before.

When she returned to the United States and reentered civilian life, Ingrid floated a while. She had a child inside of an abusive relationship that would hit bottom, and she decided to move to another state when her son was still an infant. “When my son was born, it was like a wake-up moment.”

With the help of her parents, she rebuilt her life and worked toward getting her college degree at Tidewater Community College in Virginia, then the University of South Florida in Tampa.Ingrid Operation Palmetto Punch

Ingrid’s desire to do more, and to make a greater contribution to her country and her community, led her to Team Rubicon. That’s a volunteer coalition of military veterans and emergency medical service workers who serve communities hit hard in emergency and disaster situations.

In October, Ingrid joined them in South Carolina after the severe flooding that affected thousands of homes.

“My military experience was a challenging one, but working with Team Rubicon, it’s made me realize that what I love most about the military are the people in the military,” says Ingrid, who in the last year has returned to regular therapy sessions with the U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs to help heal from the MST. “The community of veterans is an amazing one. They want to help the community and help make people’s lives better. In that way, these ideals align perfectly with those of Public Allies.”

Another important step in Ingrid’s leadership journey began last year when she was accepted as an AmeriCorps Ally at Public Allies Central Florida.

“I never expected to get inspired by people younger than myself,” says Ingrid, who is completing her year of service as an emergency manager for the City of Longwood. “Public Allies has really opened me up to this idea of collaborating with other people who are different than you, and understanding how these relationships can bring great reward.”

Nilmarie Zapata, Executive Director of Public Allies Central Florida, says she’s been an asset to the group of Allies. “Ingrid has been able to tie together all of her experiences and her skills and bring them into our space so effectively,” Nilmarie says. “And she got right away the value of our mission and the importance of seeing the assets that others bring to the table.”

Ingrid would love to see more veterans applying for programs like Public Allies that prioritize inclusivity and truly seeking and finding the value in everyone.

“When I imagine justice, I imagine a world where everyone is judged based on their character, not their past, their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation. I imagine a world where your abilities define you, where everyone has the same opportunities.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get there,” she says. “But I’m hopeful.”

Public Allies Leadership Development

One of her favorite sayings: “When you change one woman’s life, you change the world. All you have to do is change one mind to have a ripple effect. Teach a woman. Make her an equal. Change her world.”


Power of murals and art for social change


Murals like this one by Francisco “Enuf” Garcia, an AmeriCorps Ally at Public Allies Arizona, are transforming streets into art galleries in Phoenix, Arizona.

To Francisco “Enuf” Garcia, an artist, author, and AmeriCorps Ally serving at Public Allies Arizona, painting a picture on a wall is a deeply primordial, highly influential act. “When you paint a picture on a wall, as our human ancestors did in caves 40,000 years ago, it helps you to see what it is that you want to accomplish. In the same way when we write things down, when we paint images we establish our goals and our visions.

“When people paint public murals of the change they want to see,” Francisco continues, “people are going to believe it.”

Born in Los Angeles and having lived in Phoenix since he was a teenager, Garcia was recently honored with the Dr. Eugene Grigsby Visual Artist award by the Phoenix Center for the Arts and Mayor Greg Stanton. Over the last decade, Francisco has produced a steady stream of socially conscious, visually stunning murals throughout the city. His pieces are as much a tribute to past social justice heroes as they are a celebration of culture and diversity, and a call to solidarity for today’s population.

Francisco’s body of work also has a very explicit goal. “My hope is to make Phoenix the capital of murals,” he says. “Not just graffiti, but I want to see more murals with messages. Murals that bring people together and educate people about their culture and where they come from. I want to see young people paint for a change, for something positive.”

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Francisco was influenced by the Chicano murals he saw growing up in Los Angeles, but he never thought he’d one day be producing — and teaching about — the same kind of art.

Influenced by the wave of Chicano muralists that in the 1970s transformed Los Angeles boulevards into public galleries, as well as by great Mexican muralists of the last century like David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera, Francisco joined Public Allies Arizona last year because he wanted to “be inspired by people who are trying to create change in the country.”

“Public Allies has a big network,” he says, “and it’s powerful when we come together.”

Francisco is currently serving at Phoenix’s Tumbleweed Center as a Youth Development Specialist for unaccompanied minors in their Casa de Sueños program. There, he is meeting and helping young people who have faced harrowing intercontinental journeys to escape rampant violence and hopeless poverty in places like Central America.

aaaLearning their stories of pain and hope will give Francisco even more reason to continue on his mission to change the minds and the hearts of people through art.

“Art can make people think,” says Francisco, who contributed an article to the critically acclaimed book When We Fight We Win!. “I believe art is a tool to voice justice and other ideas that are not really voiced in media and society. It’s a way to express the love of God.”

Learn more about Francisco on his Facebook and Instagram page.