Diane Latiker: Chicago South Side’s Founder Of “Kids Off The Block” (KOB)

Chicago South Side’s Ms. Diane opens her heart and home for at-risk youths to realize their potential.

A Memorial Like No Other

Another stone is placed on a memorial wall in Roseland, a neighborhood in Chicago. Bearing a name and date, the stone is carefully and lovingly displayed among the other 800 stones that have been collecting there since 2007. The wall is a sad testament of young lives cut short by the barrel of a gun. Worse yet, the wall has been rebuilt 15 times since 2007, and is over 400 stones behind!

Diane Latiker, a community activist and founder of Kids Off the Block (KOB), set up the memorial wanting to shock “her community and the youth she served,”  KOB is a non-profit started in 2003 in Roseland, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, where walking home from school could mean dodging a gauntlet of bullets.

Even Latiker is not immune to her neighborhood’s violence. Her own van was found shot up by gangs. On another occasion, she says she found herself between two guns with an AK-47 pulled on her with 50 kids behind her. Her organization has also experienced losses with some of the kids becoming victims of the gun violence they sought to flee. Their names are immortalized on bricks laid at the memorial.

Burning Desire to Help

Not one to stand idly by, Latiker, the mother of eight, sought to provide low-income at-risk children a positive alternative to negative influences on the street —gangs, drugs, violence, truancy, and the juvenile justice system. She turned her own home into a community center for young people in her neighborhood. She let it be known that hers was a place available for help anytime. She started with nine kids but within three months she had 75 regulars attending her center. “Next thing I know I have kids sleeping on my dining room floor, homeless kids, I have kids trying to get out of the gangs,” she says in an interview with ABC News.

By hearing firsthand what youths’ concerns were, she was able to develop programs to help them. “The only way I can help them is if I listen and know what they need,” she says. The kids needed a safe place to hang out, where they could receive help with homework, mentoring, and recreational activities. Open to children, teens, and young adults, KOB holds group discussions and one-on-one meetings helping them to avoid destructive behavior and instill self-worth and social growth.

“I found out that the kids don’t even dream about tomorrow anymore,” Latiker shared in a 2006 Chicago Tribune article. “You ask, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ They say, ‘What?’”

Programs Inspired by Kids

Children benefit from community involvement via KOB’s partnerships with service organizations in a variety of ways. Most importantly, the children have a positive environment where they can flourish. Each individual has exposure to other cultures, ethnic groups, communities, and partake in job preparedness, GED preparation, and activities. Self-development is promoted in areas of social inclusion, cultural arts, sports, and social health.

Although services are free, youths are expected to contribute to KOB and their community. Young people are involved in all operations of KOB and many become trained as peer counselors and in teaching classes on the arts, health, gang/violence prevention, and soft skills. They can also earn Community Service Learning Hours by working summer jobs at KOB. Since its inception, over 3,000 young people have participated in KOB programs.

Becoming Their Voice

The community and especially the neighborhood kids like and respect “Ms. Diane,” as they call her, for her selfless work and she has become their voice. In 2011, Latiker was named a CNN Top 10 Hero. “Our young people need help. All of them are not gangbangers. All of them are not dropouts. But the ones that are, they need our help,” she tells CNN. “I tell kids this is a safe place. If they knock, they can come in.”

Latiker and KOB is leading the way for the empowerment, enrichment, and personal development of “throwaway kids.” “It’s more about poverty and economics than it is gangs,” she says. “We have millions of young people who are disconnected across this country and they need to be reconnected with resources.” KOB has earned national recognition for its contributions towards the broader issue of helping to restore inner cities and racial reconciliation in the country.

In 2016, Latiker was named a L’Oreal Women of Worth Top 10 Honoree. Here, you can watch L’Oreal’s touching video of Latiker’s work…

News broke recently on Deadline.com, the entertainment industry’s news source, that Latiker will be the subject of a movie directed by filmmaker Bill Duke. Entitled The Power of One: the Diane Latiker Story it is expected to be filmed in the South Side of Chicago. She says, “It worries me that young people think there is no hope beyond the gun; it’s our job to show them that it is and we will through this film. I believe this film with Mr. Duke directing will inspire the world and give hope to millions of children for generations to come.”

Latiker is setting the example for all of us to follow. Organizations like KOB need the support to continue making a difference amidst the violence. Being a beacon of hope in a dangerous community to save the lives of our youth —there is no greater calling. For more information about “Ms. Diane” Latiker and KOB, visit https://kidsofftheblock.us/.