Chicago, we are living in a city where children are dressing in Hunter Orange to avoid being shot. Chicago is literally the murder capital of the U.S. This is the reality of Chicago violence and the meaning behind Project Orange Tree.
Project Orange Tree, started by classmates of slain gun violence victim Hadiya Pendleton, have motivated a grass roots movement asking Chicagoans to wear orange today, April 1, to show that wide spread damage of violence in Chicago. The color was selected to represent the same orange hunter's wear to avoid being shot by other hunters. That's a serious, serious message. For the more hardcore, this will be combined with fasting until April 4, the anniversary of the date Dr. Martin Luther King was shot dead.
The greater sadness and more difficult to solve issue with something like the death of a promising young teen or the recent and horrific shooting of a six month old baby is that both involve three huge tragedies. The first and obvious is that innocent victims are dying for being in wrong place at the wrong time. The second is the timeline of situations that put the shooters in that place at that time. What happened in their lives to lead up to being this person at that moment? That is a tragedy. Something or someone has failed them. And this is a cycle of hopelessness that exists in these stories. This brings us to our third tragedy: the right place and the right time are becoming narrower and narrower.
This American Life recently aired a two part episode profiling Chicago's Harper High School. Everybody, especially in Chicago, needs to listen to this. Last year alone, 29 current and recent students of Harper were shot. That is a massive number. In my high school, a girl died in a car accident and it effected the student body our entire four years. I still think about her and the funeral. 29 students. Shot. The students walk in the middle of the street to get home, because they don't want to be near trees where someone could be hidden. You can't walk in groups, because you look like trouble. You can't walk alone, because you're vulnerable. So the students walk in staggered groups...down the middle of the street. This isn't just happening somewhere. This is happening in Chicago. This is happening HERE. I can't stress enough how much you need to listen to this.
In Lupe Fiasco's column about Project Orange Tree for Chicago Sun-Times Splash, he writes about a forum he attended where Chicago youth were asked to speak on why they thought the violence was happening and how they thought it could be stopped. He quotes one of the speakers as saying that "America is violence" and another who stated that "I don't know who has my back, so everyone is my enemy." Imagine that perspective. Last year, I was written about by name in the comments section of a "news site" in an article about Lupe Fiasco's emotional outcries for the children in Chicago's lower income neighborhoods. The comments were so filled with racial hatred and fear. My name was brought into the mix as a white woman in the public eye who had dated a black man. The trouble in Chicago has many layers.
I go to a predominantly black church in University Village. This Easter Sunday, our pastor's message began with addressing the fact that many of the congregants live in less-than-safe neighborhoods. You could feel the grave reality of that introduction. The man behind me muttered something about his fear and the great sadness. The way the pastor spoke, you knew that he had dealt first hand with this. I'm very new to this congregation, but this is my city, this is my church and these are my brothers and sisters. Up until then, hearing this on the news has always made me upset, but I still had this feeling of being removed. It's not part of what I experience everyday. Now, I was looking into the faces of the effected and feeling the thick energy that permeated the room. This church is two miles from my home. How can this issue be so removed?
As I looked around my nice little office job, checked out the passengers on my bus, peeped at the yuppies eating lunch at my fav fancy sandwich place, no one was wearing orange. That's when I remembered that just because my high school was a safe little building in the middle of corn fields, doesn't mean that someone isn't walking down the middle of the road. Just because I've lived a life where racial equality was an understood fact, doesn't mean someone doesn't despise me for entering a biracial relationship and referring to my ex by racial slurs. Just because I am not a first person witness to the violence, doesn't mean that those who are aren't sitting in the pew next to me.
This is not a quick fix and it is not the result of just one issue. It is a combination of gun laws, economic segregation, educational resources and more things that I probably don't even know about. The story of each individual person sets off like a chain reaction to the stories of those around. This happens in both stories of love and tragedy. It's time as a community to start adding links of love to these chains of tragedy.