One thing I've learned over my years of internet social media, going from the days of America Online to Facebook and Twitter...is this:
Not if it's something you genuinely care about, or something that you find of the least bit of importance...because if it is anything that's the least bit worthwhile, the trolls can't wait to climb out of the woodworks to bare the blackness of their souls.
So today, a group of Chicago youth, from Charles Henderson Elementary School, grades 5-8 specifically, led a march in the Englewood neighborhood. The purpose of the march was to publicly express their anger at the violence that is not only ravaging their neighborhood, but the city of Chicago as a whole.
How bad is the violence in Chicago? Do you, dear reader, even know.? Without clicking away from this page you are currently reading, how many people have been shot in the city of Chicago this year?
Did you say 909 as of 4:50pm, April 12, 2016?
If you did, good job. You keep your eyes and ears open to the state of Chicago and the gun violence problem. If your answer wasn't anywhere near 909, then you definitely need to open your eyes and ears a bit more...
It reminds me of the Buffalo Springfield song, "For What It's Worth",
"....Stop Children, what's that sound, Everybody look what's going down...."
That's a sentiment that the children at Henderson are all too familiar with. Shootings are something that occur in their neighborhoods every day.
In November, a student at Henderson, an 8th grader named J'Quantae Riles, was shot 10 days after returning back to Chicago with his family. Later, in February, a 3-year-old, Ayden Deer, was shot a few mere yards from the school entrance.
Imagine if that were the environment in which you were walking to and from school every day...or better yet, if that were the environment that your child was living in...and the fear and trauma theirs to endure.
And so, the children of Henderson, in conversation with school staff, came up with the idea of having a peace march and rally.
And today, that event happened.
And it was glorious.
The children held their heads high, and yelled and chanted at the tops of their lungs. They were surrounded by parents, and community organizers, police, and pastors, general supporters...even students from another school (TEAM Englewood). Alderman Raymond Lopez was also on hand to offer his support for the event, as well as words of praise and encouragement.
8th graders, along with their parents and the mother of J'Quante Riles, Ms. Franika Marshall, led the march around the neighborhood surrounding the school.
As an educator, I can't think of anything greater than watching students take the lessons of the classroom, and put them into use in the real world. Taking theory and applying it to solve real world problems. Beyond that, as a person who holds social justice in the highest regard, I can't think of anything better than seeing 100 young budding activists taking to the streets to LEAD ADULTS in calling for peace in their neighborhood, and calling for community members to speak up and speak out about violence.
Unfortunately, fear plays a huge part in what allows crime to dominate in a city like Chicago. People become afraid of retaliation. Couple that with the distrust (Jon Burge anyone???) that many communities feel for our police department, and you have a perfect recipe for lawlessness. The fear of retaliation grows so great that people simple "don't want to get involved", and shutter themselves into their houses.
But today...those kids were fearless. Absolutely fearless. And from my point of view, there's not enough of that going around in this town.
If their messages today, "Increase The Peace", "Put down the guns, pick up a book", "Bury guns, not kids" fell upon one set of ears, who will down the road rethink a course of action that would not only ruin their lives, but the lives of many others...that's a victory.
Additionally, if their message inspires others in the community to get involved, to get engaged, and to begin to work as a community to tackle this violence problem head-on...that's a victory.
I can only say that today was a sight to see. I firmly believe that it is something that these kids will remember for the rest of their lives...and I firmly believe that their message did not fall on deaf ears. It was amazing to see people sticking their heads out of their doors, or stepping out onto their porches to support.
And you may be asking...how do I know all this? Well, I'm the guy who's been teaching them what it means to be an activist. I'm the guy who, following the shooting of the 3-year-old outside of their school put up on the board "What are we going to do?" which started the initial conversation.
In all honesty though, I'm nothing more than a bystander to greatness. If I'm able to inspire a little bit of greatness in others, that's awesome. But I don't take credit for that.
I just hope that standing next to so many great people will rub off on me a little bit. ;-)
And so, despite getting some great media coverage today, I won't be reading any of the comments. Because most of them will be overwhelmingly negative. So very many of them will be by people who wouldn't have the intestinal fortitutde to walk 3 blocks in Englewood, but amazingly seem to know everything that needs to be done to fix the problems in that neighborhood they've never been to, and so many of them will knock people who are doing something. As I often tell my students, something will get you to where you want to go so much faster than nothing. And my students are definitely doing something...
....and I'm not gonna let trolls on Facebook dampen that in the least.
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