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CHRISTIAN LIFE IN LONDON | APRIL 2021 EDITION
Kids Off the Block: An Interview with Diane Latiker
CURRENT COMMUNITY STORIES
April 2021 Prayer Prompt
...around the table
The Churches of London Series
Village Green Community Church
London Christian Life and Witness Course May - June
BookMark - Healthy Gut Zone: Heal Your Digestive System to Restore Your Body and Renew Your Mind (BOOK REVIEW)
The Imprisoned for Christ Virtual Event – April 24th!
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Integrity
The Greater London Celebration with Will Graham
Did You Miss the Virtual Celebration Launch Event?
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Navigating Faith & Culture - Together
Faith Today magazine now FREE in Canada
Reel Review - Roe v. Wade (MOVIE REVIEW)
An Update from The London Child & Youth Network
I’m Drawing God! (HUMOUR)

Published January 2021
By Tony Kulpa



In 2003, Diane Latiker founded Kids Off the Block by inviting at-risk teens from her neighborhood into her home. She listened to them, mentored them, and gave them a safe place off the streets. Now, Kids Off the Block is a nationally recognized community outreach program that has helped thousands of teenagers in some of Chicago’s most at-risk neighborhoods. After reading her book, also named Kids Off the Block, I had the opportunity to interview Diane and talk with her about her ministry. She shared about her own life, about Kids Off the Block, and how every Christian can open up their own lives to help others.

Diane, it’s a privilege and a delight to talk with you today. Can you tell us a little about yourself, your community, and your ministry?

I am the founding president of Kids Off the Block, located in Roseland, on the far southside of Chicago. Roseland has over 48,000 people, 90% African American. We have a lot of poverty and violence, lots of youth violence. The economic situation is bad, and we’ve been left out. We have young people who don’t have any resources, any places to go, and so we struggle.

Part of the community is really hopeful. We’re a community that is struggling, but thank God for the people who care enough to try to help others. Kids Off the Block just hosted our 10th Annual Christmas Toy Giveaway, where over 400 families and their kids received gifts. In November we hosted our 14th Feed a Teen, where we provide meals for teenagers and their families in order to bring gang members together with their families in peace. We had over 600 attend. And we’re not the only ones who do things like that in the community. There are people here who every day step in, step out, and try to help.

Then there’s this other side that bucks against everything we try to do. I’m not going to put the blame on them. They are trying to strive like we are, but they’re going about it the wrong way. They feel they have to take. They feel violence is one of their only avenues. We fight against that. I tell people that our biggest issue, even with young people, is making sure they know there is hope, and that there is power beyond the gun and violence. That’s really hard, especially with young people, because they see where they live. I hear from teenagers that they feel what they do doesn’t matter. Whatever they do, they never get the results they’re looking for, so they think they have to go to the extreme. In my community, you see people who are out mowing people’s lawn, helping out their neighbors, then when they go to sleep someone robs their house. So then they say, “Well, that’s not going to work.” They’re hurt, and hurt people hurt people.

But we say, “You’ve hurt me, but I want to help you.” And they can’t understand that, that we want to help them when they’re out terrorizing everything. We try to communicate that, yes, we want to help them, because we want to live in peace. Then we can flourish and have hope, if we help each other.

How do you explain your own motivations to people who aren’t religious?

One thing I know about the Lord that I serve is that He brought me to Him through lovingkindness, so that’s what I have to do. Those people who believe they’re doing it all on their own – but they’re not – I have to show them daily, in what I do, the power of God. Show them that this wasn’t Diane Latiker’s plan. I tell them about how I ran from this at first. I was thinking, Lord, I’m 46 years old. Really? You want me to do this? All these kids? I realized that it was his plan, it wasn’t Diane Latiker. Diane Latiker would be on a fishing bank; she wouldn’t be doing this! But it was his plan.

That’s what I really have to show people who don’t believe, that He’s there, that there’s a higher power. They’re not doing this on their own, not feeling this compassion and sympathy on their own. He put it there. And so I have to show them by continually doing what I do. Then they say, “She’s operating on another power. How’s she doing that? She’s still in it, as dangerous as it is.” Because it’s not me. It’s Him protecting me to do what He needs me to do.

What can you say for people who want to do something, but face resistance from their friends, family, or even their church?

Join the club! I have four children who still do not like what I do. And I get their point; it’s dangerous! I’ve had the neighbors call the police on me, I’ve gotten threatening letters, all kinds of stuff. But I would tell the people who have compassion – and they know it’s from God – just do it. Just do it! This is about what you believe and about your faith. You’ve got to believe that if you just step out on it, and believe that He gave you that feeling – whatever it is that you feel you can’t do – He gave you that feeling to say, “trust Me.” Don’t say you can’t do something when you have Him backing you, because with Him all things are possible. You’ve got to believe that!

How has COVID-19 affected Kids Off the Block?

When they stopped school, we knew that we couldn’t have the kids physically in our house anymore, and we’re a physical organization. We’re in their face – we have to be, to keep up with them and keep them out of trouble! So we went to the vacant lot across the street and made hot dogs and fed the kids that weren’t getting lunches from the school anymore. Because these kids’ parents aren’t at home, so how are they going to get food? We did that for about three weeks, then the whole city shut down, and we couldn’t do even that much anymore.

Now we’ve got this little raggedy van that we’ve put so many miles on and we loaded it up with food and masks and sanitizer. We started going out to the kids’ homes to see what they needed. When I posted that we were riding around the city, next thing I know, we’ve got food coming from everywhere, we’ve got masks and gloves and so much being donated. We wound up delivering 600 meals a day, all over Chicago. We were travelling 300 miles or more each day, in this raggedy van, and by August we had passed out over 30,000 meals.

That’s how we pivoted, because God wanted us to help in another way. We’ve got to stay doing God’s work. There is no question about it! Especially now. People need the food, the masks, more than ever now. Just two weeks ago we passed out over 1000 boxes of food. One thing I love about grassroots is that we know what’s needed. We’re here! We live it! I’m part of these people! We see what’s needed, and say “What’ve we got?”

One of your key points has been the importance of just listening to people’s problems. What advice do you have for people who want to help, but don’t know how?

People too often listen to respond, not listen to hear. The bottom line is that we all have our own problems that keep us from listening. We’ve got everything on us personally. But you have to be open. Yeah, you have your own problems – I’ve got mega problems. I’m a flawed person. And God knows this! But I can still help people in a small way. It doesn’t have to be this giant, over-the-top thing! I can say a kind word. That’s not costing me anything. I can offer you a meal, a card. I can drive you somewhere because you’re out walking in a snowstorm. People’ve got in their minds, “I’ve got enough problems. I don’t need all this.” No, you don’t need it, but imagine how you’ll feel if you help someone. And we have to do something! How can we survive without one another?

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I just want to offer hope. We all need hope so badly right now. If you dwell on the feeling that the world is crumbling around you, then it will be. And don’t think that you're not good enough, because I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t worthy. I couldn’t save anybody. Who was I? I’ve got all these issues going on with myself. But don’t think on that. If God calls you, listen. He thinks you’re good enough. He thinks you’re worthy enough. I mean, the validation couldn’t get any bigger, right? He would know! He knows your heart, regardless of whatever else is going on with you.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

  • Click HERE to learn more about KIDS OFF THE BLOCK
  • Diane Latiker’s book “Kids Off The Block” is available in store or online at Creation Bookstore. Click HERE for the details

About Interviewer, Tony Kupla, Christian Life in London Contributing Editor.

Tony is the second oldest child in a family of 11, and, in his words, “I absolutely adored being the big brother and the “responsible one” in the family. As a result I’ve had a lifelong love of children and of leadership.”

Tony has always felt that service lies at the heart of the true Christian experience. Even as a youngster, he was deeply sensitive to others’ needs and hurts, and felt drawn to help. He also has always had a passion for Biblical teaching. More than anything else, he is delighted and excited by exploration and exposition of the universal truths found in Scripture, and the application of those truths in practical ways to problems both global and day-to-day.

It was no surprise that he wound up teaching for most of his career. The first school he taught at was Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In addition to the Caribbean, Tony has taught in South America and East Asia, as well as in Canada. Mostly Tony’s teaching has been at Christian schools, though he also had the notable opportunity to teach at an Islamic school for a few years.

In 2015, Tony completed a Master of Biblical Studies from Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary in Cochrane, Alberta. He actually started the degree in person and finished it while living and teaching in Asuncion, Paraguay. His specialization was in Biblical languages, especially Greek. Since 2016, Tony has been a London resident.

“I am excited by what God and the Church is doing here. I have learned so much about the community and the everyday heroes that the Lord is using for great things through the Christian Life in London publication”.