Rafi Peterson, a long-term SWOP staff and community leader, has roots that run deep in Chicago Lawn. Rafi’s initial connection to Chicago Lawn was through the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN), where he served as a board member for many years, starting in 1998. Rafi knew that he wanted to see a change in his neighborhood and begun conversations with community members and in particular youth. He started working within the CeaseFire program, now known as Cure Violence, with the University of Illinois in 2001. In 2007 CeaseFire linked with SWOP, and Rafi’s efforts joined with SWOP efforts to reduce violence in the community.
CeaseFire’s goal is the same as Rafi’s goal: to see an end to the shooting on the streets. Rafi works with a team of individuals who meet each night to discuss current issues on the blocks and intervene where needed with a physical presence on the streets. The CeaseFire team works quickly after a shooting to de-escalate tensions by going to hospitals to speak with victims and reduce retaliation between rival groups immediately after the event.
Rafi’s vision for CeaseFire is a vision that he holds not just for himself and his community, but it’s also for his family and friends. If you ask Rafi why he continues to play a large part in anti-violence work in the south side, Rafi will tell you that it’s for his family, his sister, his grandkids, his friends, and his neighborhood. Throughout the time that Rafi has been with CeaseFire he has also spoken at anti-violence conferences internationally. He has even brought individuals from other countries to Chicago Lawn to learn about what happens here on our streets and what can be done to interrupt the cycle of violence globally.
One of Rafi’s greatest concerns is the lack of space for youth to gather, that is- except for gangs and other street organizations. Rafi states, “if you want to turn the youth away from gang activity, then you must have something to turn them toward.” He notes that it has been over 10 years since this neighborhood has had a single youth center. His current efforts within CeaseFire focus on continuing the work to decrease the shooting but also focus on increasing job opportunities for young people and returning citizens from correctional facilities. This includes an effort to develop a school to work pipeline.
Although Rafi’s accomplishments extend far beyond Chicago’s boundaries, what he is most proud of is that shooting is down approximately 60% since he started working in Chicago Lawn with CeaseFire. You can often find Rafi in a store-front on 63rd St. where he meets with young people weekly and continues to dig into the heart of the violence issues with the people it affects the most. If you are interested in getting more involved with anti-violence efforts in the community Rafi can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.