Chicago: A Tale of Two Cities
This is my kind of town, Chicago is my kind of town,
Chicago is my kind of people too, people who smile at you,
…And each time I leave, Chicago is tugging at my sleeve.
Chicago is…one town that won’t let you
Down, it’s my kind of town.
This was Frank Sinatra's kind of town: Booth #1 at the Pump Room, Twin Anchors’ ribs delivered personally to his suite in the Ambassador East, the Magnificent Mile with its Tribune Tower, exclusive shops, majestic sculptures and historic buildings, friendly people strolling hand in hand, concerts in the park, and glorious sounds emanating from Symphony Center.
But there is another Chicago —one far removed from the dazzling beauty of North Michigan Avenue. Definitely not Frank Sinatra's kind of town--but the kind of town where bullets fly at any given moment, killing whoever is in their path. The kind of town whose people are afraid to sit on their front porches, where there are no concerts in the park, and where strolling amid flowers means walking past makeshift memorials for victims of gun violence. This is the Chicago at the other end of Michigan where, over Easter week-end, nine people died, including four girls and one boy, ages 11 to 15. Nine shrouded figures carried to the morgue.
Now you’re gone I don’t know why,
Sometimes I cry
You didn’t say goodbye.
…Bang bang you shot me down
Bang bang, I hit the ground,
Bang bang that awful sound
Bang bang my baby shot me down. Sonny Bono
Not so many years ago, violence in Chicago was associated with Al Capone and organized crime—mostly on the North Side. A city where, on February 14, 1929, seven men were lined up against a rear wall at 2122 N. Clark Street and executed in the famous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Where on a steamy July 22, 1934, at 10:30 in the evening, John Dillinger was gunned down outside the Biograph Theater. Where the cops routinely raided speakeasies and rousted patrons at brothels. The Chicago whose reputation always preceded us . In August 1978, when I was registering at the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris, I informed the school’s Director that I was from Chicago. She looked at me wide-eyed and said, “Ooh, Chee-ca-go, Al Capone, bang, bang.”
That Was Then
Today, South Side gangs have replaced the North Side mobs; and its members are teenagers, not veteran mobsters. They kill, not out of vengeance or for retribution; but because guns are their voices. Guns give them a sense of power and control.
A violence-weary Mayor Rahm Emanuel constantly faces news cameras to reiterate that every Chicago child deserves a childhood, regardless of where s/he lives. But to give them that, our city and its neighborhoods cannot live by a code of silence. They have to live by a moral code. Forget about the usual suspects, the scapegoats used to explain what is happening in our neighborhoods: the weather, lawmakers who won’t pass the right bills, judges who put those arrested for gun crimes back on the streets, or individuals who place guns into the hands of criminals. This is not about them. It’s about everyone standing up and saying NO MORE! It’s about instilling different values in those who terrorize so many of Chicago’s streets. It’s about coming up with answers that will end this vicious cycle, and allowing all children to walk safely on both ends of Michigan Avenue.
Changing the Culture of Violence
Recently, msnbc talk show host Ronan Farrow asked viewers to submit ideas about how to deal with gang violence. I thought back to a Northwestern University Youth Advocacy Project instituted in 1976 by the university and the Chicago Board of Education to improve the quality of instruction and open up education opportunities for a specific group of young people: those in the Illinois Youth Center at Valley View, and those attending Farragut High School, and the Farragut Outposts in Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood . Back then, Farragut was the equivalent of Fenger High School, the centerpiece of CNN’s miniseries Chicagoland; a school characterized by excessive absenteeism, daily disruptions, and rebellious behavior. Many students lacked self-discipline and suffered from low self-esteem. They were apathetic about school work, read below grade level, couldn’t cope with assigned tasks, never contributed to classroom activities, and couldn’t interact with each other in class; all of which resulted in a history of academic failure. The same problems plagued the Farragut Outposts, alternative institutions for students who had left the regular school setting for one reason or another; and a repository for kids returning to the community from juvenile corrections facilities—mainly the Illinois Youth Center at Valley View.
A concerned group from the university, Farragut, Valley View, and the Lawndale community came together and decided to stop talking and do something about this situation. We partnered with Teacher Corps, an existing federal program working to retrain teachers who dealt with troubled students in inner city schools, and we got a grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) to (1) reduce negative behavior that produced disruption, crime, and fear of crime in Farragut and the Farragut Outposts; and (2) increase positive behavior in the school and community by involving students in programs that met their needs and interests.
We knew how we would go about doing this:
- Develop a teacher training program at Northwestern to provide special knowledge and skills to interns who wanted to work with troubled students in high population/low income areas
- Conduct an inservice training program for teachers already working in the community
- Find out exactly what the students needed and wanted--especially wanted; and develop materials to address both
- Bring together a coalition of educators, community personnel, corrections staff, and parents and keep the lines of communication open
- Work with teachers and students in the Valley View correctional facility and give students going back to Lawndale a reason to stay
We put together a first rate team of administrators, educators, and community volunteers. You won't recognize their names, but they deserve to be mentioned: Emilye Fields, one of the best instructors to walk into a classroom and Arleen Daggs, the Assistant Principal at Farragut who made a huge difference without the television exposure accorded by CNN to Liz Dozier. In the Lawndale community we also had a a really heavy hitter: Danny Davis, then Special Assistant to the President of the Mile Square Health Center-- now a longterm member of the United State House of Representatives. From Northwestern came interns Marvin Gilliam, Rosemary Gonzalez, and Bilal Abdullah. There were site coordinators at Farragut and Valley View.
At the heart of the entire program was Jack Hungerford our Team Leader, without whom nothing could have been accomplished. Jack had cut his chops engaging in civil rights activities at SIU. He was roughed up more than a few times, so he knew how to be tough and compassionate. Jack threw his heart and soul into NUYAP: mentoring the interns, monitoring the community activities; coordinating the Valley View and Farragut activities; and making certain that kids returning to Lawndale from Valley View would find a welcoming environment. He went on to become a first rate psychologist specializing in family counseling.
NUYAP worked, thanks to the efforts of this dedicated band of brothers and sisters who introduced students to so many possibilities in and out of Lawndale. I have such wonderful memories of that time. I remember a trip to a matinee of the play Equus. We took the el to the Loop. It was the first time the students had been outside the neighborhood, the first time they had ridden public transportation, and the first time they had ever seen a play. One young man was hesitant about the venture initially; but when we gathered later to talk about the experience, he acknowledged, "I love them horses now." The others concurred.
I remember a potluck put on by staff, students, parents, and community participants that brought together all of the neighborhood’s ethnic groups. We ate great food, danced , and really talked to each other. We all agreed, it was “…one scrumptious time”.
I remember seminars, workshops, and curriculum development sessions where everyone had a say in what was being done. Did we provide solutions for all of the school and community problems? Of course not, but we offered insights into the solutions. And everyone involved was better for the experience. Sadly, the one thing most students wanted, especially those returning from Valley View, we couldn’t provide. They wanted jobs. But we gave them a fighting chance to get jobs by giving them a better education and improved social skills.
Back to the Future
Could it work again? Would such a program address the problems of gang violence and unsafe neighborhoods today? Would the federal and state governments provide the funds to make it work? Would all the concerned parties cooperate to tackle the problems? I don’t know about the money, but I do know there are community and education people out there ready to do anything and everything that would make their neighborhoods safe and give their children a chance at life.
After NUYAP, Farragut went on to become a career academy with many fine programs that offer students a first rate 21st century education in math, science, literature, and technology. And they have more than a few bragging rights. On June 8, 2010 Kanye West performed a private concert for Farragut students for winning the third annual "Stay in School" contest. They competed against six other schools to demonstrate the best overall improved attendance, grades, and behavior. One of their most famous alumni, Kevin Garnett (1995), a fifth overall NBA draft pick, now plays for the Brooklyn Nets and has become one of the greatest power forwards in the game.
There is another memorable outcome of NUYAP I'd like to share-- a small volume of writings created by the Farragut students and teachers. It is called, West Side Writings, Farragut Speaks. Here are a couple of those writings. I will be happy to include others in a separate post.
By Martha Gonzalez, Farragut Teacher
Quadrilateral piece of infinite sky
Limits my vision
Of gulls flying by.
Neither the start
Nor the finish
Of elliptical swoops
Can I see through my section of sky.
So within my box of a classroom
I seek to teach
Cut off by walls and
Hemmed in by doors
Missing the beginning
And the end Of their soars.
Roger M. Campbell, Farragut High School
My sister help me put on my Sunday clothes,
but today ain’t Sunday.
Mama’s eyes been red ever since she been up.
Daddy’s been using his handerchief to dry mama’s
eyes now and then.
We rode in this big long black car to our church,
and our preacher was standing outside showing
everybody inside the church.
It’s all kinda silly to me, cause everbody knows
they way in our church.
I thought we was goin’ to have a wedding or a big party:
but my sister pulled me to a seat up
front and made me sit quietly.
There was flowers and things all over the church,
and granddad was sleeping in a box on front of the church.
I started to tell my sister to wake granddad up so he wouldn’t miss nothin’,
but some how I knowed she say, it’s alright.
Filed under: Living in Interesting Times