Focusing on the kids

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Crispus Attucks Public School in Bronzeville is one of dozens of Chicago Public Schools to be shuttered over the past decade. Now the abandoned building remains a “center of illegal drug transactions and vagrant activity” instead of a center of learning for young Chicagoans. Photo credit: Steven Kevil

The adults of Chicago have proven over the past decade that solving the homicide problem is a complicated matter, and that they may not be capable of ever reaching a solution. The police are still working on reforming their culture, lawmakers have yet to pass the legislation necessary to crack down harder on criminals and make the justice system work better, and the Chicago Public Schools have been hit with closures and strikes that leave kids hanging out to dry.

With people in power really failing to address the issue at hand – making “an effort” hasn’t stopped hundreds from being shot over the past years – one of the best fixes going forward could simply be trying to bring up Chicago’s kids in a better way, more aware of the violence around them and more prepared to avoid or stop it. Today’s mayor and police may be ineffective, but perhaps the culture can be changed if children being brought up today can be more ready and willing to actually fight the homicide problem.

The current atmosphere around the city in violent or poor communities is one of hopelessness, and kids and teens raised there feel the pressure. At a recent summit this year addressing the negative environment surrounding Chicago’s youth in neighborhoods with “entrenched” violence, former US Attorney Zachary Fardon (recently pushed from his office at the request of Attorney General Jeff Sessions) had this to say on the situation:

“There is a sense of hopelessness, a belief cemented early in life, that [kids feel] they’re not worthy of higher education and that they will not be able to find good work… Gangs and guns are ubiquitous and gangs fill a vacuum created by that hopelessness. They teach crime and violence, and offer these kids protection and money and in a sense, belonging.”

That’s a grim way to look at being brought up in Chicago, but as evidenced by the growing and emboldened gangs in the city, Fardon seems to have summed it up pretty well. So what can be done?

At the summit Fardon spoke at, at the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center, some youth in the care of the Center offered their takes on what might have kept them out of the justice system: paint clubs, program funding for kids, access to mentors, better police relations.

Those are all good goals, especially for kids who don’t feel safe in the neighborhoods they live and go to school in. A sad aspect of that lack of safety, aside from the physical violence, is the mental strain it can put on kids. Not feeling secure near their own homes, a new study shows that kids in such areas are now even having to avoid making friends that they normally would, and are forced to “develop a strategic attitude about friendships” in an attempt to steer clear of violence. That’s a sad commentary on the state of support for city youth.

What’s really needed is money and support from the city – which doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon. In the meantime, some of Chicago’s kids are taking anti-violence work into their own hands, but while demonstrations and community engagement are important, they still won’t solve the problem.

One uplifting news story coming over the past several weeks is how one of Chicago’s kids who managed to avoid the pull of gangs and tangible danger is giving back to the population that needs it most. Chance the Rapper announced recently that he will be donating $10,000 to more than 20 CPS schools, and even got the Chicago Bulls to add a $1 million contribution to the school system. The artist’s efforts aren’t enough to fix the schools, of course, but it’s a genuine effort from someone who saw what happens on Chicago streets firsthand. Hopefully it can do some good for kids though, and possibly inspire others to do similar work.

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