Native son of Chicago. Raised in Chatham. Bulls, Bears, and Sox fan (in that order). Lived just a few blocks off of 79th and the Dan Ryan until my late twenties. This information would populate my FLEER Chidentity trading card (if such a thing existed) and I’m proud of every stat line. But some time between taking my first swing as a member of the South Side Little League baseball camp, and the third year of the second term of the first black President of the United States, my city became the unofficial murder capital of the nation.
A reputation of murder? It’s hard to believe because numbers don’t lie. Then again, (Chicago murder rate) statistics and their presentation are often manipulated to tell false or at least specific truths. I doubt that is news to anyone. What is news: 7 injured in shooting at South Side club; beloved special education teacher killed by stray bullet; 15 Chicago homicides have occurred in the first 10 days of June this year; 6 dead and at least 21 injured in shootings across the city since Friday (June 20-23,2014). Young black folks are doing most of the dying and the killing. These are the reports synchronized with our morning alarm clocks and nightly lullabies of late. The kinds of “accolades” you never want associated with the place some people ignorantly call “Chiraq”, but you lovingly call home.
If you believe that Chicago is one three-day weekend away from declaring Martial Law, I implore you to pay attention and widen your perspective. Chicago is not the only city suffering from outbreaks of crime and violent activity. See also Philadelphia. If you remove the element of race, the entire state of Florida has had a troubling last few years, lest we forget. Many campuses including those in Isla Vista, California and Seattle, Washington will be holding annual vigils for lives lost too soon. Cities and nations around the world are going through political upheavals that result in violence to which Chicago can’t compare (i.e. Egypt, Nigeria, and the Middle East). Please understand I’m not making excuses; I’m making observations.
Here’s another one: there is hope for our city and the youth who reside here. We shouldn’t have to be afraid to walk in our neighborhoods, even after an incident we hoped would continue to happen to everyone else in those “terrible” West Side and Englewood areas. But I’ve worked with youth in the past and it’s amazing what they can accomplish if you can simply inspire them. They are more than just the sum of their perceived parts; they are people who can be encouraged to achieve greatness beyond measure. But the lives that some of these kids live embody struggle that isn’t included in the reports of violence. Obstacles that many of us haven’t had to overcome. Resources we haven’t had to do without. A myriad of contributing factors affect how these kids act out but the details are often excluded.
Example: Picture, if you will, two teenage girls walking into your performing arts after-school program with looks on their faces that let you know they won’t be participating. And I don’t mean that “I’m a teenager and I don’t want to be bothered with this” look. I mean a look of genuine frustration and defeat. Later, after the proverbial pulling of teeth, you discover that the girls are upset about a graded assignment returned to them with disturbing notes from one of their teachers. The assignment was to write a paper describing future goals. These two girls had each written goals centered around family: husbands and kids and dogs and back yards. The students were given C’s because the teacher did not see family as a sufficient goal. That was when I realized that the look they held when walking into class was of heartbreak. A teacher thought it best to tell these students that family is not a goal to aspire toward. It’s one thing to ask a student to reach further, but to tell them that part of their dream is insignificant is akin to a violent act; only against the spirit and not the body. Particularly because at least one of the girls lived in a single-parent household. It’s conceivable that she saw a two-parent household as a major accomplishment. She wants her children to grow up in an environment that she thought better than her own and was essentially told that was wrong. So if she’s neither encouraged at home nor at school by the most influential adults in her life, who does she turn to?
It’s complicated. There is no simple answer. I get that. But despite all of the negative attention that Chicago has been getting lately for an uptick in violence and crime, just know that there was one day when there was peace in the land. Check the link below: