Community Hero: Pastor Chris Harris

Community Hero: Pastor Chris Harris

Bright Star Community Outreach 

When Covid-19 first appeared in Chicago, Pastor Chris Harris suspected it would hit his community on the South Side hard.

“Historically, whenever other communities get a cold, it’s like stage 4 cancer to the Black community because of health disparities and lack of access or affordability of healthcare,” says Harris, who is pastor of Bronzeville’s Bright Star Church and founder of Bright Star Community Outreach, a nonprofit dedicated to youth and family anti-violence programs. 

Harris took immediate steps to aid the community. Church services moved to a virtual platform, and staffers offered social services remotely. Calls to the Bright Star Community Outreach trauma helpline, part of The Urban Resilience Network (TURN) program, spiked by as much as 43%, as area residents sought counseling and resources related to joblessness, hunger, trauma, anxiety, and home-school challenges.

Paster Harris quote The organization began distributing food to those in need, serving nearly 2,500 families and providing assistance to help people pay rent and utilities. When funeral attendance was capped at 10 people during the shutdown, Bright Star Church offered streaming services; more than 30,000 have viewed virtual homegoing celebrations.

In the midst of the pandemic, the death of George Floyd served another traumatic blow. “Only Black people are asked to deal with a pandemic called Covid and an epidemic called racism — where police brutality is produced and protected — along with unemployment, lack of healthcare, and so many other things all at the same time,” Harris says.

The pastor led two Black Lives Matter marches, bringing 14,000 Chicagoans from various faith communities together in solidarity, sharing a message of hope. That is, in fact, the motto of Bright Star Community Outreach: strengthening hope and saving lives. 

Originally published in the Fall 2020/Winter 2021 print issue. Photo by Jim Vondruska