Father Peacemaker: Chicago Priest Helps Saves Lives Through Basketball

Rival gang members battling on the court instead of the streets.

ByABC News
August 4, 2013, 1:35 PM

Aug. 4, 2013— -- While Chicago is no stranger to violent crime, since the beginning of the year, crime citywide has gone down.

As of Aug. 3, Chicago Police said murders have gone down 26 percent from 317 murders at this time in 2012 to 235 murders so far this year.

"While to date we've had fewer shootings and significantly fewer murders this year than any year since 1965, there's more work to be done and we won't rest until everyone in the city enjoys the same sense of safety," Chicago Superintendent Garry McCarthy said.

And one Chicago neighborhood seems to be escaping the bloodshed thanks to a determined priest.

Rival gang members are battling on the court instead of on the streets -- with the prize not being a trophy, but lives saved.

"Nobody wins in a shootout. We are trying to create an atmosphere that when something comes up and we to talk it out rather than shoot it out," Father Michael Pfleger said.

Pfleger started an ongoing weekly basketball league last fall in one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods.

As a result, violence is dramatically down in the community.

Pfleger said among his players, there hasn't been a single shooting. He has received calls from four other gangs who want to become part of the tournament and encourage peace.

The players promise to give up their violent ways and in exchange for Pfleger helping them get a GED, job training, and even job placement at one of 100 companies that have partnered with the tournament.

"These guys are committed because we say to them, 'you go back to shooting, the job's gone,'" Pfleger said.

In October 2012, ABC News hosted a summit, moderated by "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer and ABC News correspondent Alex Perez, to bring some of the city's gang members, former gang members, victims and community organizers together to talk about the spread of gang violence, why it happens and how to stop it.

That was also when ABC News talked to a 7-year-old boy named Ralph, who lost his grandmother to the gang violence last year.

He showed ABC News the fortress of locks and barricades he and his mother Deliah lived behind just to feel safe.

"It'll be gang bangers running and shooting," Ralph said at the time.

Ralph and his mother thought their prayers were answered when they moved to a new apartment to escape the violence. But it turned out to be even worse.

Read: Chicago Gang Violence: Victims, Families Share Stories

Drug deals were happening right in their apartment building with customers exchanging cash for drugs through a tiny hole, he said.

"These drug dealers and gang bangers make it hard on me and hard on kids," Ralph said.

Pfleger stepped in and helped Ralph and Deliah move to his neighborhood -- giving a tired little boy a chance to dream and an entire community reason to hope.

"The frustrating thing is that all these lives out here on this court, they have so much potential," Pfleger said. "We need their leadership, we need their skills and as I always say: brush the dust off their dreams, help them achieve their purpose, that's our job."

Anyone wanting to help Pfleger's church and Ralph can go to: http://www.thebelovedcommunitychicago.org/