Chicago, we have a problem. We’ve all read the headlines about the ongoing violence in our communities and many of us have been personally touched by this crisis. These stories of sadness and despair we read and hear about every day are heartbreakin
Chicago, we have a problem. We’ve all read the headlines about the ongoing violence in our communities and many of us have been personally touched by this crisis. These stories of sadness and despair we read and hear about every day are heartbreaking. But what’s equally disturbing is the fact that so many of us have become nonchalant in our response to this crisis.
In the inner city, when gun violence erupts and lives are lost, the root causes are frequently overlooked. The tendency is to blame the victims, or look to recent events and encounters gone awry. But let’s consider that before the violence in Chicago escalated, the headlines out of the Black community were largely about high unemployment, the lack of summer jobs for Black youth, and the widening achievement gaps in our inner-city schools.
The violence in our communities is a direct result of these unattended deficits. And the greater issue that hasn’t made the headlines: We have become comfortable at the bottom of every statistical benchmark used to measure the success and viability of people and communities. We have gotten used to it. We have come to accept inferior schools that are under educating our children. We have gotten comfortable with high unemployment and access to mostly low paying jobs. We have gotten used to neighborhoods with boarded up houses and empty lots filled with trash. We have become helpless to stop our own children from killing each other. We have become mired in the muck.
However, I firmly believe that, through faith and embracing the fact that we all have a role to play in making our city safer, we can move to higher ground. The big question is how do we get there?
First of all, we have historical precedent. Throughout our history, African Americans have risked life and limb to fight for freedom and equality. From the well-known figures to the unsung heroes and heroines, we are here today because of thousands of people who were pushing—and praying—in persistent and consistent ways, to get to higher ground.
Second, I believe in our young people and our future. I believe that when we fight for them; when we set a positive example for them; when we push them and hold them accountable; when we believe in them they excel.
The Chicago Urban League has a mentoring program that young, black males participated in. These are young, black teenagers who were referred to us because they were at high risk of being shot. When you talk to young people who participate in mentoring and other types of life-skills building programs, they have hopes and dreams. They thirst for the guidance and opportunity that’s been lacking in their lives. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that all young people have a fair chance to survive and thrive.
Finally, I believe we can make a move to higher ground because we know what great things are possible when we chose to focus on making a difference in the lives of others. We know what success looks like and have many contemporary examples of what we can achieve as a community focused on reaching higher ground. We need more people who are focused on doing what Gandhi and our President Obama have said, “being the change you want to see.”
I know that getting out of the muck and moving to higher ground isn’t easy. But it’s definitely worth it. We have our past to guide us, our future to motivate us, and great examples of what is possible when we, collectively, work together to lift up our communities.
We lift our communities to higher ground by exercising our right to vote. We lift ourselves to higher ground when we realize that our streets, blocks, neighbors, and our children are worth saving and defending.
Chicago, yes, we do have a problem. But we have do have solutions. Solutions that are part of our DNA. Together, let’s move to higher ground and use, as motivation, the lyrical advice of that great 21st century prophet, Stevie Wonder:
Teachers keep on teachin’, Preachers keep on preachin’, World keep on turnin’, Cause it won’t be too long…..Till I reach my highest ground
Andrea L. Zopp is president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League