If you Google “Hovland Court, Evanston,” the first thing you see come up is “Two Dead After Shooting.”
But the people who live on Hovland Court are taking action to change both the reality and the image of the street.
On March 12, two young men were shot and killed and another was wounded in broad daylight in front of a Hovland Court house.
Saturday afternoon, in direct response to the tragedy, some 150 people enjoyed sun, snacks and fun at the first Hovland Court block party, sponsored by the Hovland Court Block Club.
The club was organized right after the shooting. Founder Kristin Huzar said her 13-year old son told her, “Mom, none of my friends want to come and visit here. They don’t feel safe.”
The block club set out to make a difference. Adam Perry Park was cleaned up by volunteers. A community garden was planted. The club partnered with the City of Evanston and social service organizations to have the block party.
The goal is community building. “I’m making it my mission to learn everybody’s names” on the very diverse street, Huzar said.
That may be a lot of names. The block party was actually open to the entire neighborhood, not just those on Hovland. Brad and Amethyst Cannady and their two-year-old daughter Madison strolled over from a few streets away.
“I never knew the park even existed here,” Amethyst said, “until we found out about the block party on social media.”
Another part of community building is police-community relations. The Evanston Police Department provided a DJ and the music, basketball players to play hoops with the teenagers and a chance for officers and residents to get to know each other.
Mayor Daniel Biss, who was at the block party, said this type of event is “totally critical” for improving how police interact with the community. “Building relationships in non-traumatic situations,” he said, can be “a model for what we need to see.”
Certainly the March shooting was traumatic. Investigators believe it was not random. No one has been arrested.
10-year old Isaac Rochon heard the gunfire down the block that day. At the party, Isaac took to the microphone and told the crowd the block party was, in part, a way to remember those who were killed.
But, he said, it’s also a way to “make things better” on Hovland Court. Isaac wants the party to happen every year. He’s hoping a picnic table can be installed near the new community garden. And he also asked for volunteers to join a kids’ cleanup corps to keep the park looking good.
“In the end,” he said, “Hovland Court will be a strong neighborhood and no one will ever say ‘Why do you want to live here?’ again.”