This blog is dedicated to my dear friend Shaquall who’s life was affected by Chicago’s senseless violence today.
Today I’m writing this blog from thousands of miles in the air as I travel to Los Angeles. I’m headed back to school today to start my second year at the University of Southern California. I have so much excitement about this but more importantly excitement over how full my summer has been. I met Soledad O’Brien and Representative Bobby Rush. I traveled to Wisconsin Dells and spent quality time with friends.
Back in May when my summer began, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to have a good one. My summer began on a shocking and violent note: my friend was shot and killed on the south side of Chicago. It wasn’t my first experience with death, but it shook me to my core. I couldn’t grapple with the fact that in one day a healthy, funny, caring 19-year-old could be making plans for the future and the next day be taken of out this world — forever silenced — by a man who didn’t even know him.
When I was returning back home to Chicago I went through a torrent of emotions: grief, anger, pain, hatred.
But for the longest time my heart stayed on one emotion: fear. The fear of being a victim of gun violence and the fear of losing someone else I loved to violence.
For a teenager living in Chicago the fear of violence is not an irrational one. For days after I returned home I woke up every morning and checked the Chicago Sun Times overnight report. It was filled with stories of knifings and shootings perpetuated against and by teenagers and young adults. My peers. My contemporaries. My fellow Chicagoans. The reports were so disheartening and frightening to me that I no longer could look at them after awhile. Part of my decision to do that came from my fear of reading another familiar name and the fear of becoming desensitized to this senseless violence in my city.
I was afraid.
As I write this on the plane that will carry me back to my private university and away from the city, I fully recognize that I’m lucky. I’m lucky because I don’t have to live in constant fear at school. I’m lucky because I can see the world outside of Chicago. I’m lucky because I made it through the summer.
Before I got on this plane I watched a newscast describing how a slaying occurred over the weekend on one of the designated Chicago Public School Safe Passage routes. Uh. In the newscast the reporter interviewed a six-year-old who will have to walk this same route in the coming weeks when school resumes. The boy talked about being scared because murders happen outside his home. The boy’s father said these safe passage routes would not be safe until all the criminals are off the street. And a spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department stood by the belief that the safe passage routes will allow the school children to “focus on their studies and not their safety.” Got it.
It seems like we’re living two realities right now. Chicago youth are shouting out and proclaiming that they are living in fear. And everyone else not in their situation is ignoring them. Creating new paths to school does not snuff out fear. A statement from someone high up does not eliminate it. Fear is alleviated by getting at the root of the issue of violence — not by creating new routes to avoid the violence. Jobs. Economic empowerment. Healthy food options. Attentive ears. These are all starts to eliminating the fear that has visited so many people in Chicago.
Like I said before: I’m one of the lucky ones. Yet for that exact reason I feel compelled to reach back, stay attentive and raise my voice (even while I’m away at school) when I see that this very prominent reality of fear exists back home. I would hope we all feel the same.