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Daily Journal
     January 30, 2020      #64-30 KDJ
 

'Still facing same problems' 

By Lee Provost
lprovost@daily-journal.com


KANKAKEE — Fred Koger was only 19 when he left Kankakee. He just returned to the community he still calls home.

Koger, now 43, did not leave the city to find work nor to enter higher education. He left in handcuffs for his role in a November 1995 double homicide on the city’s north side.

He was released from prison and his life sentence about five months ago having served 24 years. He was released early because of changes in the law as to how minors — the person responsible for the crime was 17 — are prosecuted and sentenced.

Kroger and about 40 others took part in the first Kankakee United community meeting Tuesday evening at the Kankakee Public Library.

This new program is aimed at reducing gun violence involving black Kankakee boys and men younger than the age of 25. Kankakee United is an off-shoot from the national organization, Cities United. The goal is to reach this group by uniting community resources.

Simply put, the goal is erase gun violence — or any form of violence — among so many young blacks where it has become a way of life for so many.

The hope is to get to the youth before their lives are impacted by poor decisions such as joining street gangs, dropping out of school and committing crimes which place them on the path to prison or a premature death.

FRIGHTENING NUMBERS

In Kankakee, from the years 2011 to 2017, there were 33 homicides. Of those 33, the vast majority — 30 — were boys or men. In addition, 26 of those victims were black. One other point from that time frame, 86 percent of all the city’s gun violence victims were black.

Koger said he knows those statistics all too well.

In fact, he said he firmly believes as a youngster he would not live to age 25.

“I didn’t care about living,” he said. “I sold guns. I sold drugs. My way was fast money. I was drinking in front of my parents at age 13.”

Violence, he reasoned, was simply the way of life for some many males like him.

“I didn’t realize how violence had affected me. When I was growing up, I was thinking all of this was all normal. I honestly did,” he said.

A Kankakee High School dropout, Koger said it wasn’t until he had spent several years in prison that he realized was wrong. His life, he said, did not have to be ruled by violence.

“I asked God not to let me die in [prison].” And he didn’t. He eventually won his freedom, but when he returned to his hometown, he was struck by what he saw.

‘MIND-BLOWING’

“It’s sad,” he said. “We are still facing same problems. It’s sad that we are still talking about this. This is mind-blowing. I definitely want to be involved and help.”

Tackling this problem will take more than the effort of Koger or even that of Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe or Police Chief Frank Kosman.

“This is a community issue and it will take the community to solve it,” the mayor said.

As of now, Linh Williams, executive assistant to the mayor, is heading Kankakee United. Williams is a 1996 graduate of Kankakee High School as well as a 2013 Olivet Nazarene University graduate. She also earned an MBA from ONU in 2015.

Williams knows firsthand the pain of losing a loved one to violence. She recently lost a 28-year-old relative in an Antioch, Tenn., shooting only a few weeks ago.

“It takes a community to be involved” if there is to be any hope in reducing the impact of violence on this group, she said.

There, of course, will be much work to do to moving this project forward. There will be monthly gatherings and the goal is for young people to be invited and involved so that targeted group can be helped.

NEXT MEETING

The next gathering will be Feb. 25 at the Paramount Theatre. The 5:30 p.m. event will feature a showing of the movie “Selma.” Admission is free and tickets will be issued on a first-come, first-serve basis. A discussion will follow the movie.

The next meeting in the Kankakee Public Library’s third-floor meeting room will be 5:30 p.m. March 31.

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Lee Provost
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