Chicago Torture Justice Center partners with Old Town School of Folk Music, fosters community through freedom songs

CHICAGO (WLS) -- "Unique New York. New York's unique. You know you need unique New York."

As a group of police torture victims tried to master the tongue twister, the Englewood Health Center was overtaken by a wave of laughter. Trust and warmth filled the room.

Cynthium Johnson and Martez "MisteR" Rucker, a mother-son teaching duo, were leading the Freedom Songbook Workshop.

"We came in to teach soprano, alto, tenor," said Johnson. "But what happened was once we stepped through those doors, they changed us immediately with their energy. They changed us with their hearts."

The Chicago Torture Justice Center, created as part of the city's 2015 reparations package for victims of police torture, offers therapeutic services and support for victims of police violence.

Over the past eight weeks, the center has partnered with the Old Town School of Folk Music to foster community through music.

"State violence- we know that one of the ways that that impacts us is by creating division and disconnection in the community," said co-executive director Cindy Eigler.

"These kinds of programs that we're doing, including the freedom songbook, is a chance for people to really build their connection, build community, build joy and resilience."

Arewa Karen Winters is the great aunt of Pierre Loury, who was killed by police officers in 2016.

"A lot of times, unfortunately, we don't recognize trauma," said Winters, a workshop participant. "We get so inundated, and things get so common to us, until we don't realize that a lot of people are traumatized."

Mark Clements, a fellow at the center, is still fighting his 1982 murder conviction.

"This provides us with a space, man, to take the pressure of life and to let those pressure just go and relax," Clements said.

The torture justice center just wrapped up its first session of the Freedom Songbook Workshop. But they plan to expand the program soon and bring the workshop into prisons.
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