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Acho hopes event helps people who are hurting

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Former Bears outside linebacker Sam Acho coordinated a special event Thursday at the By the Hand Club for Kids in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago's West Side.

Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and receiver Allen Robinson joined Acho, along with players from the Cubs (Jason Heyward and Jason Kipnis), Blackhawks (Jonathan Toews and Malcolm Subban) and Bulls (Ryan Arcidiacono and Max Strus). Two Northwestern products who now play in the NFL, Austin Carr (Saints) and Tyler Lancaster (Packers), also participated.

The pro athletes gathered with youth and leaders from the By the Hand Club, BUILD and the Westside Health Authority, as well as Chicago police officers, for "healing circles." They then took a bus tour of the neighborhood led by Alderman Emma Mitts and a youth representative from the By the Hand Club. In addition, Congressman Danny Davis also spoke to the group.

"We got together and we just listened," said Acho, who played four seasons with the Bears from 2015-18. "We listened to the people who are hurting. We sat and stood in circles with some kids from the West Side of Chicago, some police officers from the West Side of Chicago and pro athletes as well, and just allowed each other to have an open dialogue about what's been going on, how do we feel about the situation and where can we go from here."

Acho organized the event because so many people are hurting following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer May 26. Floyd's murder has sparked more than a week of protests and unrest throughout the country.

"The state that America is in is we're divided," Acho said. "It seems like it's a white-versus-black problem, but it's really not. It's really an everyone-versus-racism, everyone-versus-hate, everyone-versus-fear problem."

Wanting to give back to the community, Acho considered setting up a protest march or clean-up effort before opting to visit the By the Hand Club for Kids.

"One thing that came from me was thinking about those kids in the city who are affected by this," Acho said. "I was like, 'What they need is just some encouragement. They need somebody to listen to them and love on them,' so that's what we did.

"I gathered a couple guys from each team. It was like Noah's Ark, two-by-two. We listened to the kids and what they're going through and listened to their heart, talked to some police officers as well and just listened and learned, and tried to find out what we could do to help change the city."

We got together and we just listened. We listened to the people who are hurting. Sam Acho

Acho believes that the best way to effect that change involves investing in non-profit organizations like the ones that attended Thursday's event.

The By the Hand Club for Kids is an after-school program whose mission is "helping children who live in under-resourced neighborhoods have an abundant life." The organization was founded in 2001 with 16 children and has grown to now serve nearly 1,600 kids. 

BUILD, which stands for Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership, is an organization that focuses on gang intervention, violence prevention and youth development. Its mission is "to engage at-risk youth in schools and on the streets to help them realize their potential and contribute to our communities."

The Westside Health Authority serves an estimated 22,000 residents at six locations on Chicago's West Side. The organization provides services, promotes wellness and development, and encourages and enables growth, engagement and positive change. Its mission is "to use the capacity of local residents to improve the health and well-being of the community."

Former Chicago Bears LB Sam Acho united players and alumni from the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and Northwestern, youth and leaders from By the Hand, BUILD and Westside Health Authority, and Chicago police officers for healing circles in the Austin neighborhood.

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