Since its inception in the early 1980s, Farley Keith “Jackmaster Funk” Williams has been a chart-topping star of House music, an amalgamation of disco, electronic/techno, hip hop and R&B/Funk and the backbone of Chicago’s vibrant party scene. While Farley continues to be a taste-making DJ and producer, the Chi-Town native’s heart is in building up his community.
He and his wife Delece make their home on the city’s south suburbs and serve as the founder and president of Kidz Korna, a non-profit organization created to empower youth which has made a variety of contributions to hundreds, if not thousands, of young people across the city.
Arriving in front of Kidz Korna in a late 90s model green and white conversion van wearing T-shirts and minimal jewelry, Farley and Delece quickly nixed any pre-conceived notions of a materialistic or elitist power couple. While Farley dipped into a convenience store, Delece, a petite, caramel-skinned sista with an energetic presence that belies her age, greeted me with a smile and thanked me for coming out. A former beauty queen with professional acting credits and a Ph.D. in Counseling and Youth Services behind her name, Delece conveyed a genuine sense of passion that makes you believe that her line of work is her life’s calling. She’s serious about combating the violence but places an emphasis on an often ignored but-oh-so-pivotal voice: that of the children themselves.
Kidz Korna sits at the intersection of Ashland Avenue and 79th Street, or, “The 9” as it is colloquially known. That intersection represents the pulse of the Auburn-Gresham community. If these four corners are quiet, more than likely, much of the neighborhood is at rest. Conversely, when there’s plenty of activity going on, one can be assured its impact is being felt throughout the rest of the area. There have been 113 homicides inside of its 3.77 square mile radius since January 2007. Rife with numerous “cliques” or gang factions, many conflicts originate and/or culminate at this very spot and for this reason, Farley and Delece decided to open Kidz Korna here. Many kids have sought safety inside of its doors.
“Each corner [of the intersection] is a different gang turf. Kids were fighting and getting beat down at the bus stop and girls were being snatched up against their will and being taken for prostitution. Often times we would come outside and try to intervene. Some kids would have to come inside and wait for their parents, so we would feed them food and things of that nature.” Delece said.
“We’ve been active since 1995. We started across the street where I would take the kids off the corner and we orchestrated a program that led us to CAN-TV. We started the Kidz Korna TV show where the parents along with the kids would tell their stories. We opened up the new youth site about four years ago. It was an abandoned store and the community wanted us here. We had homeless people coming in off the street putting up wallpaper and fixing our floors. Random people would come in and clean up or do whatever they could to help. This was a community effort,” Delece stated, beaming with pride.
As she was speaking, Farley returned from the convenience store with refreshments for everyone. He chimed in, excited about the organization's initiatives.
“God [has done] miraculous things, because during this recession, people continued to give so much stuff. We stood out in the cold for hours passing out gifts but that’s where our heart is because we are servants of God who are here to give to the people."
"During summer, we have the ‘Summer Safe Haven Program’ where we do initiatives through music as an alternative from hanging on the corner,” Delece said.
"Music is universal," Farley continued. "I believe that I can also reach [the kids] spiritually if I can reach them through the music."
After nearly two decades of productivity, Kidz Korna lost public funding last year, causing them to fall behind on rent and eventually shut their doors about six months ago. Despite the setbacks, Delece and Farley are maintaining the faith that they will be fortunate enough to see the reopening of Kidz Korna in the near future.
“This year our funding was cut but it hasn’t stopped us because we’re still doing a lot different programs,” she said. “We do the ‘Miracle on 79th Street’ during Christmas time where we distribute toys and school supplies out of two rooms. Every year we have a waiting list of 7,000 young people and families.
“Our target date for reopening is November 30th, right after Thanksgiving to get ready for our Christmas activities.” said Delece.
The duo recently hosted a back to school weekend event called the “House and Hip Community Unity Weekend”, where they brought the House and Hip-Hop communities together to help the children start the school year off on a positive note. Free haircuts from different community salons and barbershops were offered. There was also a forum where kids and parents voiced their opinions and concerns about the most recent Chicago Public School initiatives to community leaders and pastors, who announced their support plans and programs available for students throughout the school year. The weekend concluded with peace oriented community marches through four of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods and the ‘Peace in the Park’ picnic where community members bonded with one another over food, music, and family fun.
“This is what we have a calling to do,” Farley said. “God knows our hearts and as long as we can, we will work within the midst of the people to serve our community.”