In the weeks before he was gunned down across from Cole Park in the Chatham neighborhood, Chicago police Officer Thomas Wortham IV had been a leader in efforts to reclaim the park from encroaching trouble and violence.
Two shootings at the South Side park in the spring had shaken the sense of security long enjoyed by area residents and led officials to take down the basketball rims in an effort to stave off further trouble.
As head of the park's advisory board, Wortham worked to restore the park as a haven for children and families. On Friday, the slain officer's mission will be carried on with an overnight campout at the park in the 300 block of East 85th Street.
Set to sleep beneath city lights and the open sky are about 50 young people from the neighborhood. They will be joined by officials including Gresham District Cmdr. Eddie Johnson, 6th Ward Ald. Freddrenna Lyle and members of the military who served with Wortham.
"It will send the message that the park is safe," Johnson said.
Lyle said the campout is one way to show shaken community residents that they should continue to use the neighborhood's parks and amenities.
"We want to keep a sense of normalcy," the alderman said. "We're not giving up on (the kids) and we can't give up on the community either."
The campout will be a chance for the children of Chatham to experience sleeping outside and roasting s'mores -- new experiences for most of the kids who plan to attend.
"It will provide our children an opportunity to sleep under the stars," Lyle said.
It's also a way to make a dent in the violence that's been troubling the community, she said.
"You eat an elephant one bite at a time," the alderman said.
Wortham was shot in May outside his family home, just across from the park, by robbers who were trying to take his new motorcycle.
He was an Iraq veteran, and Lyle and Johnson both said they were impressed that Wortham's military peers are coming to lead the camping activities.
"This is what Tommy would have done," said Sgt. Canada Killam, who served with Wortham in the Wisconsin National Guard and was his college roommate. "Those of us who are left want to make sure just because he was stolen, his ideals are not."