No matter temperature, Polar Peace March walks to stop violence

St. Pauls United Church of Christ, 2335 N Orchard St, and UCAN hosted their 5th annual Polar Peace March Jan. 20.

By Kendall Polidori

“Stop the violence, start the love.”

This was the chant approximately 300 people marched to Jan. 20. on a day when temperatures fell below 20 degrees. The Polar Peace March lived up to its name.

Despite the freezing temperatures, people around the Chicago area showed up to Lincoln Park’s Saint Pauls Church of Christ, 2335 N. Orchard St., to walk 1.5 miles around the North Side neighborhood in protest of violence in the city.

Jan Bail, chair of the committee at St. Pauls, founded the Polar Peace March four years ago and is an active participant in the event.

“The church wanted to do something to honor Dr. King’s legacy of nonviolence and peace,” Bail said. “Part of our mission as a church is social justice.” Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in 1968, would have turned 90 on Jan. 15, but his birthday was celebrated in a federal holiday on Jan. 21.

The fifth annual Polar Peace March was organized by UCAN, one of Chicago’s oldest social services agency. When looking for ways their church and congregation could make a difference, St. Pauls founded UCAN 149 years ago. UCAN’s mission is to build strong youth and families with education, compassion and empowerment. 

UCAN holds the Polar Peace March in Lincoln Park, rather than neighborhoods with more violence, because they believe all areas of Chicago should be involved in spreading awareness. 

“It’s important for folks in neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and [others] on the North Side to also know that they need to wake up. We need to understand what’s going on. All neighborhoods in Chicago need to be part of the solution,” said Zack Schrantz, president and CEO of UCAN.

Schrantz has been involved with the organization for more than 28 years and helps lead 700 employees who work with more than 15,000 youth and families a year.

“Today was both a celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Schrantz.

Bail said the weather did not change the success of the march nor the number of people who attend. The event raised $50,000 with fundraising and donations, and in the last four years, has raised more than $190,000. All of the proceeds of the march go toward UCAN’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Services, which help young people secure a safer future for themselves.

“It’s great to feel the power of a group of people who have similar beliefs, prayers and wants for everybody. All of our streets are connected in Chicago,” Bail said. 

Jeff Carlson, one of the pastors at St. Pauls, stood alongside Bail.

“UCAN is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets,” Carlson said. 

St. Pauls strives to be a safe and inclusive place for people to go. Carlson himself is a gay pastor, and the church also has a female pastor.

“We are an open and affirming congregation, welcoming gays, lesbians and trans folks into our congregation,” Carlson said. 

The march will return next year, the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to continue the peaceful fight against the violence in Chicago.

“Given the world we live in, people are always wanting to do something and they just don’t know what to do,” Bail said. “This is a simple thing to do and it is a weekend that we should all [spend] focusing on peace.”