Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ted O'Keefe, Art Velasquez Honored @ Peace & Education Fundraiser

Ted O'Keefe of the Chicago Police Department received the 2009 Arturo Velasquez Community Leadership Award tonight at U.S. Cellular Field during the 12th annual Peace and Education Coalition of Back of the Yards scholarship fundraiser. O'Keefe is known as the founder of CAPS (Community Alternative Policing Strategy). Mayor Richard M. Daley and Fr. Bruce Wellems of Holy Cross/IHM Parish are with him in this photo.

CAPS Coordinator Marina Alonso hugs 9th District Commander Eugene Roy. Alonso was instrumental in building the community-police relationships necessary to solve the 2007 murder of Leticia Barrera on the 4800 block of South Seeley.

Arturo Velasquez, Sr., who died recently, was an important figure in Back of the Yards and a mainstay of education and scholarship efforts in the neighborhood. He was honored with a video tribute. His family turned out in great numbers for the event, including his daughter Carmen, who founded Alivio Medical Center.

Year after year, Mayor Daley has consistently attended the event, although he did miss last year, if memory serves. The year before, there was a lot of media attention and he had to dash out pretty quickly. This year there was no mainstream media present that I'm aware of and he was able to relax and stick around a bit longer. I'm guessing he may have wanted it this way to spend a bit more time with the Velasquez family.

His remarks also seemed more relaxed than I've seen in some of his public appearances. Right off the bat he teased Fr. Bruce, who has been exercising and losing weight to control diabetes. "I thought he was getting ready for 2016," the mayor joked.

Daley went on to express his appreciation for all the people in Back of the Yards who offer a helping hand to young people, especially those who are most in need of help. "There are many great stories in Back of the Yards that I wish the media would tell. When a kid falls down, there's a helping hand to get him up. You all are the helping hands, and I want to thank you for your passion," he told the crowd.

This year, 61 college and graduate students who have served the Back of the Yards community are applying for Peace and Education scholarships. Another nine students in private high schools have also applied. One of the college applicants is Melissa Rodriguez, who is planning to return to the University of Illinois and study biochemistry after having to shift her studies to community college in order to save money. In her application essay, she writes, "I had the choice of quitting school and finding a job or continuing my education but in a community college where the tuition would be more bearable. I chose to continue my education. I refused to surrender in defeat."

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