Dennis Green is quick to confess that when he was younger he was “part of the problem” in the Englewood neighborhood where he grew up. Now he strives to be part of the solution. Three years ago, Charles McKenzie, the founder of Englewood First Responders, asked him to lead the nonprofit’s street outreach efforts. In that role, Dennis, 35, works as a volunteer trying to resolve conflicts and prevent violence. He brings a lot of insight into the role. He dropped out of school at age 12 and joined a gang. His mother was overwhelmed trying to raise seven children and his father wasn’t in the picture. “I didn’t have a lot of guidance; I was doing a lot of crazy stuff,” he says. “When you don’t have a lot of love, you automatically go to the streets. But the streets don’t love nobody.” He resorted to selling drugs and burglarizing cars and houses, which led to incarceration.
“I let people know I’m out here. If there’s a conflict, you don’t need to get a gun. Let’s talk it out and think of better ways to do things.”Dennis Green
When Charles asked him if he was ready to turn his life around, he immediately said yes. Now he positions himself at gas stations, liquor stores and other public places—in some cases, where disturbances have recently broken out—and serves as a mediator in conflicts. Young people seek him out and he will move to hotspots once he hears that gang and other tensions are simmering. “I let people know I’m out here,” he says. “If there’s a conflict, you don’t need to get a gun. Let’s talk it out and think of better ways to do things.” Green doesn’t get paid for what he does. “I don’t want money to help a community I helped mess up,” he says. “I owe the community.”
He enjoys working with kids the most, he says, especially now that he has children of his own—a 14-year-old boy, a 9-year-old girl and 8-year-old twin girls. He doesn’t want to see his kids or any of the children he works with, experience jail or gang life. “As long as I can help one child, I’m so happy with that. That’s the accomplishment I cherish the most.”
Not everyone has an equal shot at the American Dream. Fortunately, there are dedicated people across Chicagoland who are committed to making sure every child and family has opportunities to achieve their goals. With your support, we can create new possibilities and help make countless dreams come true. With support from donors like you, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation invests in organizations on Chicago’s South and West sides improving the lives of children and families each and every day.