Rockford, Ill., Born from increased dissatisfaction over a seemingly endless string of homicides, senseless violence, and robberies, a cadre of Black men, led by their desire to take responsibility for their community, pledged one year ago to transform the west side and to become better examples of independence, strength, and manhood as a means to make the city a safe and decent place to live.
|100 Strong board members in Rockford Safe House.|
“Some friends of mine, and some people that I was familiar with throughout the community, were talking about putting together an organization that would break up a lot of the crime that was going on in our city,” said Virgil Hobson, 49, one of the founding members of the Rockford based 100 Strong organization.
“Certain parts of our city have just consistently gone down and a lot of people, adults and youth, have been miseducated and feel less empowered, so a collection of men that wanted to come together and come against that (have) worked together to make a difference and we’ve been doing that from day one.” Mr. Hobson said.
Celebrating the anniversary of 100 Strong, with the opening of a safe house on the city’s west side, board members said the concept and vision for doing so grew out of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s instructions in the wake of the 10-10-15 Justice or Else movement, that witnessed the return of hundreds of thousands of men and women to the National Mall during the 20th anniversary of the historic Million Man March on Washington D.C.
“Prior to the formation of the local 100 Strong organization, the Rockford Study Group was holding all men’s meetings, not necessarily just FOI class, but meetings calling for men to clean up the community,” said Bro. Henry X, Student FOI Coordinator for the Nation of Islam Rockford Study Group and Rockford 100 Strong board member.
|Men of Rockford's 100 Strong conduct community walk.|
Commenting on the initial meeting that created the organization, Bro. Henry said: “At the same time, violence had spiked in the city and there was a day in January where 13 robberies happened in one day, and on that day, many men were asking what they could do in the community. Almost everyone there (had) been touched by the loss of a loved one or the increased violence, or the incarceration rate or the drug crisis in our community, he said. “So those factors produced in the men a desire to clean up their neighborhoods, a desire to unify, a desire to produce Black business and Black education and Black excellence.”
According to 100 Strong board members, the safe house, which officially opened on Auburn Street in December 2016, is completely supported by the local community through memberships and individual donations and has since served as an after school refuge and popular spot for neighborhood youth to enjoy wholesome meals, educational games, movies and to display their individual talents. Under the motto: ‘Each One Teach One,’ 100 Strong members said the safe house environment teaches love of the Black community, respect for one another as brothers and sisters, and self-improvement as the basis for community development regardless of religion, socio-economic status and education.
“I’ve always had courage in myself and I’ve always felt good about myself, but after coming to 100 Strong, it put me on a different level because I felt like I was equal to other people and felt like I was on an even playing field with everyone else,” said Artissha James, 16, a Chicago transplant and 100 Strong youth member who plans to attend college when she graduates from high school.
|(L) Artissha James, (R) Mahogany Smith|
Agreeing with her friend that an environment of strong and unapologetic Black men is conducive toward elevating self-respect in the Black community, Mahogany Smith, 16, born and raised in Rockford, said she credits 100 Strong with advocating the knowledge of self as part of its program. “I became involved with 100 Strong this year in January and I’ve learned a lot of life lessons and mainly the men have impacted me because they call us queens, they call us sister, so it’s something different,” Ms. Smith said.
Rockford Study Group Coordinator, Student Minister Yahcolyah Muhammad said the many problems affecting the city’s neighborhoods are similar to those throughout the country and the solution is found in Black people taking the responsibility to change their condition. “By obtaining a safe home, without any government assistance, without any capitulation to any (external) demands and without a mandate from some top-down bureaucracy, this sets up an environment where we are free to express our culture without restraints and this is the justice our young people want,” Bro. Yahcolyah said.