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Annual neighborhood block party ‘eliminated’ violence

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Saturday, the roads were closed on West South Street in Galesburg.

The once crime-infested neighborhood was celebrating their seventh annual neighborhood block party.

Betty Shunick, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years, remembers seeing drug dealers consistently dealing in front of her home.

“I had enough. I had survived a type of cancer that was killing little kids. I would ask, ‘Why am I still alive?’ I had a calling; this is what I was supposed to do, cleanup this neighborhood,” Betty said, sitting in her chair as she gazed at her neighbors celebrating on her street.

Years ago, people in the neighborhood knew they weren’t living in a safe area.

“It was a bad area,” Joey Kimbrough Sr. said, who is familiar with the neighborhood’s past. “People used to say, ‘Don’t go down South Street, they are shooting people over there.”

After seven years of the block-party celebration, neighbors say the area has changed for better.

Carriage rides, a ping pong table, a basketball goal, face painting supplies, food tents and a dunk tank were all donated to the party. Kids ran along, laughing and playing while music played through the streets.

Shunick, who’s battling lymphoma, has dedicated her life to help others, while putting herself second.

Every year, more members of the community donate food and other items to be given away.

“We also have a free table,” Shunick said, pointing to the table that’s covered in boxes to her right. “All that stuff was donated. I can’t sell it, but I can give it away.”

Shunick added, “People here get along now,” smiling as she let out a chuckle. “They’re not selling drugs in front of our houses anymore.”

Kimbrough, who donates his dunk tank every year to the celebration, said he would like to see more neighborhoods host annual block parties because it does make a difference.

“If you have a way of helping your neighborhood by doing something like this, try doing it. It makes you feel good,” Kimbrough said.

For those on West South Street, the block party symbolizes the extraction of a haunted history, and the birth of trust and safety.