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Shanita Baraka Akintonde

It’s official. Summer has thrown back her head of crisscross cornrows and raised a sweat-drenched fist over our city. Black communities in Chi Town are ready for backyard barbecues and family cookouts, replete with warm watermelon and cold barbecue. There will be spirited card games of Spades and Bid Whist along with laughter and rich conversations. This sizzling summer heat is making it clear to Chicago’s two million plus inhabitants that it’s time for some fun in the sun. Here’s praying that the spirit behind such proselytized pandering moves from her phantom lips to the gun-toting hips of the many misguided, miseducated, and marginalized youth who plague our communities.

It wasn’t that long ago when parents didn’t have to worry about their children. Whether upper class, lower class or somewhere in the middle, Black children whose formative years fell between 1973 and 1988 were primarily engaged in one or more of the following activities:

  1. Jumping Double Dutch
  2. Playing Piggy (a hybrid mixture of softball/baseball)
  3. Riding Bikes
  4. Hula Hooping
  5. Eating Ice Cream and/or snow cones (my favorite was a blue raspberry, coconut, lemon lime concoction)
  6. Skateboarding
  7. Listening to LL Cool J’s “I Can’t Live Without my Radio,” while carrying a big boom box radio
  8. Buying cassette tapes
  9. Recording music on cassette tapes (see #7)
  10. Wearing matching short sets

There were other happenings in my own neighborhood, like creating and playing Chinese jump rope (remember the time it took to tie all those rubber bands together?), throwing jacks; roller skating at The Rink; playing hopscotch; going to drive-in movies with family; shopping at Zayre and going to the neighborhood candy store where $1.00 could score a bag of sunflower seeds, strawberry cookies, penny candy and a juicy, sour or dill pickle. The latter delectable edible called for the immediate decapitation of its olive-green crown, followed by a swift, deep piercing of its heart by a jumbo peppermint stick. All is fair in love and summer treats! As my fellow ’70s babies know, the biggest concern we had while playing under the summer sun was getting back home before the street lights came on.

And as a member of a culture known for dressing with distinction, I remember with great fondness the many heads, including my own, that were adorned with braided plaits infused with beads the color of melted Skittles candies. That way, no matter the outfit worn—it matched! There were also ankles draped in socks and gym shoes emblazoned with the word CONVERSE, before being replaced by an ADIDAS logo after the mandate from Run-D.M.C.

These days, I rarely see any children engaged in outdoor play, particularly in the ’hood. No longer do I get a glimpse of dancing legs moving though twirling twine with the precision of a trained naval officer. Or skillful rope handlers, whose precise timing ensured the tsunamic twists, taps and thrusts of a jumper remained on beat. Back then, games were played, yet were also fraught with life lessons. Failure to properly complete a job standing at either end of a Double Dutch jump rope called for one to be branded as “double-handed,” which meant possible expulsion from Double Dutch island.

A bad bid or misuse of the Big Joker playing card in an intense game of Spades could be means for verbal execution. This was hardcore stuff. But it was also invaluable teachings of accuracy, leadership, and taking care of one another. This is missing for youth today. They, too, need experiences without an Instagram emoji or Snapchat snap hovering nearby. Rather than playing games like Piggy, today’s young are busy running from the “pig,” (an outdated, vulgar moniker for police officers). However, their mistrust is understandable, given the spate of murders of Black youth in the past five years.

Numerous research studies, like ones reported on by The Guardian and The Jamaican Observer show police killings of approximately 300 Black Americans – about a quarter of them unarmed – each year since 2014. It further reports that Black people were “three times more likely than Whites to be killed by police during this time, and nearly five times more likely to be killed by police while unarmed.”

It is imperative that we not reduce slain members of our community into mere hashtags and t-shirt slogans. The fatally wounded were human beings with lives and longings, who made mistakes and created magical moments too, just like all of us. They experienced countless summers, but none had the ability to know their demise would be derived from the scorching heat of a bullet, rather than from peaceful slumber underneath a ginger-spiced sky. Let’s do what we can to protect our young people. We can start by doing two things: as we climb, lift; as we learn, teach. Our lives depend on it.

Shanita Baraka Akintonde is an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago. She is also President and Chief Visionary Officer of Creative Notions Group, a professional speaking and consulting company. Professor Akintonde will release Heart of a Leader in August 2018. She’s for hire to inspire and will gladly share her rates for each of her uniquely crafted workshops, keynote addresses and/or seminars. Contact her at sakintonde@colum.edu. Follow her @SHAKINTONDE and http://www.linkedin.com/in/shanitaakintonde/.

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