Local Residents “CollaBOOrate” on Annual Halloween Event to Promote Peace in Hyde Park

Hyde Park has seen no arrests on Halloween night for the past three years as the event “CollaBOOration” completes its three-year anniversary.


Bennie Currie

The CollaBOOration team this Halloween.

By Hugo Smith

This Halloween, Hyde Park residents gathered together at “CollaBOOration,” an event that attempts to promote peace on what is often perceived as a particularly crime-ridden night.

This year, CollaBOOration was centered around East 53rd Street, where a band played music while volunteers wearing orange shirts handed out candy. In the surrounding streets, neighbors worked with each other to make their blocks more welcoming to trick-or-treaters.

CollaBOOration’s founder, Bennie Currie, told The Maroon that he thought of the program after the crime Hyde Park saw on Halloween 2018, which led to the arrests of several teens.

“I hoped that it would be a positive deterrent from some of the vandalism [Hyde Park] saw in the year before, and the year before that,” Currie said.

Per the Hyde Park Herald, this was the third Halloween in a row without any arrests in Hyde Park, a success Currie attributes to CollaBOOration as it concludes its third year.

To expand CollaBOOration beyond East 53rd Street, CollaBOOration recruits block captains to engage their block and create a welcoming environment. For many, this meant ensuring neighbors left their lights on and having a visible presence throughout the night.

There has historically been a heavy police presence in Hyde Park during Halloween. Last year, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) increased patrols and deployed squad cars with lights running to every other intersection on East 53rd Street, creating an environment that Currie said many residents found unwelcoming.

“It didn’t [make] for a good look, so I reached out to them,” Currie said.

CPD did not deploy the squad cars in that manner this year, instead using more officers on bicycles.

Julie Less, a board member of the Hyde Park non-profit Blue Gargoyle and one of CollaBOOration’s organizers, also felt that this year CPD had listened to community requests for less aggressive policing on Halloween. “This year, they finally heard us,” Less told The Maroon.

After the crime in 2018, Less told The Maroon, “the overwhelming response to the broken windshields was ‘Those kids need to be arrested.’” But, she said, the real issue stemmed from a lack of things for local youth to do. CollaBOOration’s idea, Less said, was to “give them a party, [and] have the police there to watch.”

And this year, it seems that’s what the police did. “There were a couple teenagers who looked like they wanted to have a go at each other,” Currie said, but community members were able to step in before the police became involved. “We just said ‘Hey, we’re gonna keep the night lively. Let’s have fun, we don’t want anyone going to the police department tonight,’” Currie told The Maroon.

Musician Thaddeus Tukes, who leads the jazz band that has performed for the last three years on East 53rd Street, also described CollaBOOration as a way to de-escalate tensions between local residents and the police.

Tukes, who spent a couple of years living in Hyde Park as a teen before going to Northwestern University, said he first came across the event on social media in 2020. “I saw that there’s a group of young people…who wanted to do something on Halloween, and they were kinda having everyone congregate on a block to hang out,” he told The Maroon. Tukes had recently co-founded the Chicago Freedom Ensemble, a group of jazz musicians, in the wake of the reckonings around police violence after the murder of George Floyd that year.

“We had been at the [George Floyd] protests, we had kind of seen the police response to the young people at protests,” Tukes said. Out of concerns that tensions between the police and youth on Halloween might escalate into violence, Tukes brought the band to Hyde Park that year. They have returned every year since.

“As musicians, and artists in general, everything is community supported,” Tukes told The Maroon. “It’s an honor to now be considered a part of Halloween in Hyde Park because these are the very people and the community that supported me since high school.”

As CollaBOOration concludes its third year, it has no plans to slow down. It hopes to get grant money to help fund future years and believes that the lack of arrests over the last three years demonstrates the effectiveness of programs like its own. “I saw the looks on people’s faces when they were walking down 53rd Street, going ‘Hey! This band is cool, what is this?’” Currie said. It’s this kind of environment, not crime, that Currie hopes the neighborhood will come to be known for on Halloween.

“We didn’t make the news in a negative way in Hyde Park,” Currie said. “I think it’s a good thing and something we need to consider to be a new normal.”