Message from Montie

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Should Fenger High School parents step up instead of suing CPS for Derrion Albert violence?

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Message from Montie

Shamontiel is the author of two novels: "Change for a Twenty" and "Round Trip." Check her out at shamontiel.com.

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Rhaea Albert, at a neighborhood gathering on violence, weeps for her 16-year-old brother, Derrion Albert, who was beaten to death Thursday, Sept. 24. (Tribune photo by Terrence Antonio James / September 28, 2009)

Part 1: The Emotion

 

There's a photo of Rhaea Albert in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of Ebony magazine taken by The Chicago Tribune's photographer Terrence Antonio James. It's a photo of Derrion Albert's little sister with tears streaming down her face (similar to the photo in this blog) but closer up, and it reminds me of the reaction one of my cousins had when one of her twin brothers was killed in their neighborhood. Just like parents say they should never die before their children, the bond that siblings have make them feel the same way.

 

Looking at that picture of Rhaea Albert with tears streaming down her face broke my heart. No child should have to die at the hands of another child and definitely not for something as simple-minded as neighborhood beef. Although I wish that the photo never had to be taken or the Derrion Albert incident never occurred, as I stated in my Christmas wish list, the photo is so raw. But what's more important is that she doesn't have the stone-faced look of a child who feels like murder is just another day.

 

A child who has given up on life is the scariest person you ever want to meet because they sincerely believe they're not going to be around. And even children who are numb to those around them being hurt is scary too. They become desensitized to violence. And as much violence as I saw around me and that stone-faced look from a few of my peers, my parents refused to let me lose hope.

 

Part 2: The Experience

 

I never could comprehend having animosity over a neighborhood, but I do completely understand why families at Fenger High School are so frustrated with the issues between CPS, other students, the police and Chicago youth violence.

 

In my elementary school days, I remember running home from several gang fights at recess. I remember seeing a boy aiming a gun at another boy on a basketball court, and all of the students took off running. But the next day I went right back to school. I don't believe I even told my parents what happened, and I didn't get a note from the school explaining the danger on the court. And as much as I loved to talk, I don't know why I didn't mention it. Maybe it was because gang fights had become so common.

 

If my memory serves me correctly, students were given the opportunity to sit in the auditorium if we didn't feel safe going outside. Some students like myself went home for lunch because I was fortunate enough to live one block away from my school. My father was there waiting on me with a home-cooked lunch every Wednesday. And when he wasn't off on Wednesdays, my mother made it mandatory that I report directly home after school. I was a latchkey kid, and they weren't even trying to hear anything about me hanging out after school. I went home. Period. My father was a member of the PTA, and my mother monitored my grades and made a point of putting me in after-school activities to keep my mind sharp. My parents knew that they could monitor me but they couldn't supervise the entire school, so they did what they could in the meantime. But no matter how much violence happened at our school, I don't recall anybody suing Chicago Public Schools, and unlike the Derrion Albert murder, the shootings I saw were at the school.

 

Part 3: The Suggestion

 

I can't say I blame the family members who want their children to be in better schools or to transfer out to another school, Carver Military School. The difference between what I dealt with growing up and Fenger High School was that the students weren't the ones killing. It was gangs meeting at our school to fight. Besides call the police, what could the school really do? You can't police people outside of the school and those who have beef and plan to set it off away from school grounds (waiting until you stepped off CPS property), and there's no security guard getting paid enough to walk each and every student home.  But since there's that much conflict at Fenger High School with the students, I do agree with the parents that something needs to be done.

 

But once a child leaves school grounds, it's the responsibility of the parents and the police, not the school security guards, to keep those children safe. I don't really understand what they expect to resolve by suing CPS. It's not going to change the conflict going on between the two groups at Fenger High School. If there was beef at Fenger and some students want the beef to continue, these students still have to come to the same homes. Violence travels. And what if the students who are causing conflict end up at Carver Military School, and now the violence travels to another school?

 

In order to change these issues, this much energy to transfer should be dedicated to talking to the source of the issue--the students. That or get the parents more involved in the school. Drop your child off. Pick your child up. Find someone who will come get your child from school. If you work, keep them in some kind of after-school program until the parent or family member can get to them. Protect your child. CPS will never be as much of a protector or love your child the way you do regardless of how much they're being sued for. It's the parents that have to step up to the plate.

 

Prime example: There was a boy I went to elementary school with who got into it with some gang members. Over what? I don't know, but the gang members followed him to school. They walked inside of the school, past security guards and teachers, and they were determined to fight this boy. Somehow my school managed to hide the boy, and the gang members left. A few minutes later as I'm lining up to go inside the entrance doors to my elementary school, this car comes speeding around the corner. I look over, and it's the boy's father. The father got out of the car with a bat, chains and his coat looked a little puffy. He walked past all of us into the school, we heard yelling about "Where is my son?" and then the boy resurfaced. That father put his life on the line for his son. I was in awe.

 

I'm not saying parents have to play superhero. All I'm saying is I admired that type of parental dedication. I admired how his father was going to do anything to make sure his son was safe. I understand why parents are keeping their children home from Fenger High School, but I hope they're homeschooling these kids while they're there. The father immediately had his son transferred out of my elementary school. I thought I'd never see that boy again, but to my surprise, I saw him during high school orientation. He ended up going to Morgan Park with me. Later on in life, I heard he became a lawyer. Crazy how parental protection works, huh?

 

 

Note: And just in case you're curious, the living twin went on to work in the corporate world and became a deacon. My other cousin, his sister, is now a teacher.

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17 Comments

Ayesha Cummings said:

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Ayesha Cummings

Professor D.A. Justice

English Composition and Argument 112

December 3, 2009

I am a Social Work Major at Shaw University and have been instructed to post a portion of my final paper for English Composition and Argument. My target audience is parents of the urban community; specifically those of African decent.

Black Youth at Risk: What Are We Doing About It?


According to the CDC, “Black children represent an overwhelming majority of crime victims and crime perpetrators.” It is apparent to me that many of our Black youth are engaged in violent acts in an ill attempt to express their anger and frustration. The issues that may cause them to have such emotions are more likely to be a combination of complex issues. However, I do believe that the lack of parental support and being raised in dysfunctional homes are two major factors. Despite the many issues that may cause their violent behavior, what are we as parents doing to address the problems and counteract the affects that they have on our children? The CDC Reports that, “Among 10-24 years-old, homicide is the leading cause of death for young African Americans.” Their statistics show that 62.2 percent of 100,000 of the deaths that occurred just this past summer were African American males between the ages of 10-24. If we do not grasp the severity of what is going on and take action, trends show that the problem is likely to get worse. We can no longer stand by and allow society to raise our children. It is time for action! I don’t claim to have a solution; my hope is to make an appeal to all parents especially to those who say “It’s not my child”, “It won’t happen to mine” or “My neighborhood is safe”. If your child leaves your presence, it’s possible. In fact, even your presence may not be a deterrent.

Message from Montie said:

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Ayesha, so what is your suggestion for a solution? I know you said you don't have a complete solution, but what do you suggest happen to help change those statistics. I say parents should be more involved in picking up their kids and get in the PTA and after-school programs. And you?

Ayesha Cummings said:

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Montie, I agree that being involved in school activities and being present when your child is dismissed is important but the reality is that many parents are not able to do these things. I believe that parental support in all areas would be most effective. We need to make sure that we take the time to talk to our children and educate them about life, including the possible dangers and consequences involved with doing wrong. We need to be aware of what’s going on in their lives, happening at school, and know who their friends are. We must be proactively involved in every aspect of our children’s lives. So many of us wait until the dilemma occurs, but that might be too late. I understand the constraints of being a single parent and the struggles of two parent families, where both parents have to work. In such circumstances, there is an extra effort required for you to work harder at being involved. If you need additional help such as youth programs or recreational centers, there are support services available to people of every economic status. I just feel like we can no longer allow any excuses for not doing all we can; this issue is too serious to ignore.

Message from Montie said:

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Ayesha, I do see where you're coming from about parents just not having the time to monitor the schools and their kids during school hours, but the reality is that the students who really NEED to be talked to may have parents instigating the issues or telling them not to be a punk. And then there are those with no suitable role models altogether. By telling the parents to talk to their children, we're assuming the parents have more sense than the children. I'm talking about parents in general, not just from this school, and I met a large amount of unique parents who had no business having kids. That's when the parents have no choice but to get involved. They can't raise their kids and everybody else's too.

Ayesha Cummings said:

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I do speak to the parents who have no business being pareents in my writing. I too came from a home that was quite disfunctional.... My parents where both addicts and often left me in the hands of a close family member who molested me for the first 13 years of my life. I realize that some of us have no frame of reference when it comes to the proper way to raise a child. Many of us were raised in dysfunctional homes ourselves. As a result my psyche was severely damaged and distorted, and my behavior was not far from what is represented by many our black youth today. I was angry at the world, cared about nothing and even less about myself. I would not be where I am today if someone hadn’t cared enough to intervene. When I remember those who provided me with direction, many of them where people outside of my family. Some of these children will never get help from those who are responsible. Therefore, we must pick up the slack. I am a firm believer in mentoring and giving back by reaching out to any child that I can.

Ayesha Cummings said:

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Montie,
As I sit hear and think about this massive problem that we have before us... I find myself getting so overwhelmed. What are we going to do? There are so many children out there that are not getting what they need and who is going to help them? I have a dream of opening a school and residential program for girls who have been displaced from their homes because of neglect, abuse, etc... I have the complete vision and this has motivated me at age 37 to go back to school and get my degree in Social Work. When I think of how many I will be able to help with my one program I get this feeling of dissatisfaction; for it will not be enough for me. My heart aches for these children for I know that many of them are just angry and hurting inside. Some may say that I am naive but I believe that if everyone stopped turning their heads in the other direction and was willing to do more than just talk about the next kid that ends up in the news and what they would do if it was their child; I think we could make a difference. I know it's a challenge but what will happen if things continue on this way?

Ayesha Cummings said:

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Montie,

I was checking out your credentials, which I find pretty impressive, and was wondering if you could help me out... I am in the very early stages of writing my life story and really need some help with writing technique and format. Not to mention that I am in my first college English class and I graduated High School 19 years ago. I’m also not sure if I want it to be written as a novel or if I want it to be more of a motivational tool with advice and so on. I have been reading for inspiration but it seems that each time I read a new book I change my mind on how I plan to write. I am now reading "The Other Side of Paradise" by Stacy Chin. Do you suggest that I keep reading? Do I need to seek professional advice? Other than jotting down my history and experiences, I'm not sure where to begin. I would appreciate any advice you can offer.

Message from Montie said:

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Ayesha, I'm going to respond to your entries from the bottom up.

Writing technique and format: While you are in school for Social Work, take nonfiction writing courses or journalism courses as electives. I can't teach someone how to write. That definitely has to happen in the early stages. Now if you are looking to hire an editor or proofreader somewhere down the line, we can definitely chat about that, but I think before ANYBODY writes a book, they need to take a couple workshops, talk to teachers about formatting and grammar, get honest feedback from other students, and work on their focus.

Novel or motivational tool: Novels are usually a minimum of 180 to 200 pages. Anything under that is a novella, and if it's under 100 pages, then you may as well go for a motivational tool.

Stacy Chin's book: Never read it or heard of it. I suggest every writer read at all times, constantly, and never stop. It helps you learn how a book is CORRECTLY formatted, and it also helps with the editing process. Simple things like quotation marks outside of punctuation are common mistakes I see with beginning authors or other grammatical errors. When I worked for Kaplan Financial, I worked with veterans who basically had to reprogram all that I thought I knew about editing. It tore up my ego but helped me a lot in the long run.

Opening your own school: I see this a lot when I complete interviews. Everyone wants to own their own business instead of looking at organizations that are already out there who are mentors and guidance counselors to women right at this very moment. I just completed an interview with two mentoring women for the After I Met a Boy event. Why not try working with an organization that's already out there like Assist Her or Daughters of Donia to get your feet wet and then explore entrepreneurship? This way you can "give back" now.

What'd I do: When I did a book signing at my alma mater, I was originally coming for homecoming weekend to talk about the publishing industry. But I asked them could I also bring material for the HIV/AIDS organization I was working with and talk about safe sex and prevention and condoms usage. They let me. My best tip is to contact schools and ask can you speak to their students. In my experience, schools actually like it when someone wants to give back and help with their students. They're overworked and underpaid so volunteering your services may be appreciated, the same way that After I Met a Boy did theirs.

Your background: These are those stories I hear about that leave me speechless. I remember a friend of mine wanted to spend the night over my house but her grandmother wouldn't let her because my father and older brother lived there. I was so offended, but later on in life I found out that there was a situation of rape/molestation in their household. It started to make sense to me, although I was STILL offended that someone would think my brother or father would ever do such a thing. But with so many cases like this, I definitely think young girls who are going through issues like this should be able to find women who overcome it. Although molestation is not the topic of this blog, I still revert back to my original suggestion. Talk to schools. Tell your story. See if you can have a workshop with the girls.

Good luck!

Ayesha Cummings said:

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Wow.... I thank you for all of your feedback and will take your advice and volunteer before starting my own...

Message from Montie said:

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Ayesha,
One more thing. I looked up Shaw University because I didn't know where it was and now that I found out, obviously you can't very well volunteer for the Chicago organizations I suggested but I'm sure there are groups there. Good luck in your search.

On another note, a mix of reading about teenage homicide and CNN reports about students who are just becoming helpless made me interested in the topic of African-American teenage suicide rates. I was surprised it was as low as it was. It's crazy to me that teenagers are killing each other in massive numbers but still hesitate to kill themselves. For some odd reason, I expected it to be the other way around. However, after completing the interview, I wonder is it "the village" that helps stop those who are considering suicide. If so, I wish this would also happen with homicide rates, DECREASE ALREADY!

Ayesha Cummings said:

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There are an abundance of yourth programs here in NC for me to volunteer for so I won't have a hard time finding one.

In regards to the suicide rates... It actually makes sense to me. Although I did not value my life I never wanted to commit suicide. I would imagine that those who have a desire to commit suicide suffer from feelings of guilt and distress or are just so tired of their life’s circumstances that they decide to give up. When you are angry, especially as angry as I was you have a strong desire to fight – not to give up. These kids don’t want to take there own lives they want to take someone else’s – and that’s real! I think that if we can turn their anger and desire to fight toward positive things and show them that they are of value, it could make a drastic difference. It worked for me…. To your point about “The village” Yes I do believe that the difference is made by those who are willing to take the time to get involved in a child’s life in place of their parents. Though I don’t believe that all of the parents who are now dysfunctional are unable to become better parents, but in most cases the child is in such distress that they can not afford to wait for their parents to get it together. My mom has been clean and sober for 20 years and now has her Masters Degree in Health and Human Services. Seeing her make a complete change has been an inspiration for me but she was not the one who helped me work through my pain and anger when it was most crucial. I think that part of rectifying the problem with our youth needs to start with motivating the parents but that can’t be the only strategy. This is part of the reason that I want to share my story. I think that by hearing real life testimonies such as mine can encourage all people to get involved whether they’re parents or not because they will see that they can make a difference.

Question: Am I the only person who has read your blog about the parents stepping up vs. suing the CPS? If not why hasn’t anyone else commented?

My Answer: I think that this is a perfect example of the mindset people have on this issue. They believe that they can ignore the problem and hope that it will eventually correct itself. Until it directly affects their household it’s someone else’s problem.

What do you think?

Message from Montie said:

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Ayesha, Actually no, you're not the only one who is reading this blog. I get a statistical count each week and quite a few people are checking the blog. My highest blogs don't always have a massive amount of comments. You also have to take into consideration that people may link the article and comment to the person who linked it (i.e., Facebook) instead of registering or talk amongst themselves.

As far as them commenting directly on here, I was actually thinking the same thing. You commented about my article on teenage suicide and "the village" mentality on ChicagoNow, but I wrote it on Examiner.com so what made you come back to this blog to respond? Same deal as the folks above. People choose to comment where they want to. No biggie for me, but I don't think they're ignoring the issue. Not everybody comments though. I'm one of those people that comments on everything, but again, see my example about Examiner.com.

tayale said:

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I was directed to this blog from a blog about CPS.

The problem will not correct itself. However, to say that one needs only to "parent" and things will resolve themselves is a tad bit simplistic. There are many factors that have contributed to the situation we have today. There are forces at work here besides "bad parenting" that need to be addressed. Society shares a role in this dilemma as well. We have an extremely violent culture (and I am referencing the entire country, not just African Americans). We have have a long involved history of racism, especially institutional racism, that is still very prevalent today.

While I am not excusing the actions/behavior of Fenger students, parents, gangs, etc, I think it is important to note that many families and individuals that once lived in CHA housing now live in the private sector on the Far South and West sides of the city. They are NOT making it. They were diverted to these parts without proper support and guidance. These families have been isolated yet again.

Additionally, unemployment is above 10 percent. There aren't any jobs out there, and there sure aren't any jobs out there that can sustain a family trying to live a decent life, hence, people feeling the need to run out and start their own business or return to school. There has been an uptick in the number of people going back to school, and that ain't because of their love for learning.

I could go on because it's not a simple issue at all. Our goverment plays a role in selling us ALL down the river, not just the folks in Roseland or in the "Ville." Telling someone to practice good parenting alone is not going to get us anywhere. Folks have been saying this for years. A combination of acquiring good parenting skills, along with ALL of us connecting and demanding that our goverment and those in power treat ALL of us fairly and equitably (because the powers that be are sticking it to us working folks, too), would be a good place to start. Healthcare, affordable housing, decent paying jobs. Let's look into this while we are assessing the parenting skills of others. Peace.

Message from Montie said:

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Tayale, I'm going to have to disagree with you about this one. My parents who both worked full-time STILL managed to put me in after-school events and look out for my safety. The same things that are going on now (gang violence, job issues) were going on then. However, parents blaming the school system for not guarding their children AFTER they leave is just not going to cut it. That's YOUR child. Nobody can secure your child like you. It's easy to point a finger at the government, but the fact remains that if more children who are causing the problems were being raised better, these situations wouldn't happen. Neglect leads to a lot of these kids looking for the streets to raise them. I watched this consistently with my own eyes.

Message from Montie said:

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Tayale, I want to point out one other thing about your comment. I'm finding way too many people who love to point their fingers at racism or the job market nowadays, but racism was actually far worse several decades ago (and obviously several centuries ago). Jim Crow. Segregation. Slavery over. What did we get? Black Wall Street. The racism we experience now is very weak in comparison to that of the past, but we sure do love to wave the racism flag every time something goes wrong in our community or blame the government when we need to worry about OUR own homes first and foremost. The police didn't raise our kids. The government didn't raise our kids. WE DO! It starts with the parents. That's not simplistic. It's real.

Ayesha Cummings said:

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Tayale,

I am not saying that one only needs to parent and I agree with that bad parenting is not the only issue. However, I do believe that it is one of the major factors. I understand the financial constraints of many black families but I'm not sure that economic or social status has anything to do with ones ability to be a responsible parent. Disadvantaged People have been raising what we consider to be well behaved children for years. None of us had it worse than our ancestors who were slaves and they weren't going around killing one another. If anything it made them stronger as a unit. I believe that unity was handed down from generation to generation and who did it start with? The parents... If poverty and the lack of resources is one of the major problems why is youth violence so prevalent now? This is why I think it is so important that as parents we do everything in our power to counteract the affects of social and racial disparities through edifying our children and instilling in them a standard of moral ethics and excellence. When a child already knows that they are at a disadvantage because of their race or where they live their parents should let them know that their current circumstances do not determine their future. Moreover, they need to actually do things that prove what they say. Tell them about accomplished African Americans who have triumphed over poverty and racism, get them involved in their local Big Brother Big Sister programs. With the exception of a physical disability there is no reason why a parent shouldn’t be able to access available resources to help their children. Most community service programs are free. I am not just talking about being able to financially support your child I am speaking specifically about raising a child that has sense. Just because you’re poor does not mean you have to steal or rob or commit crimes but if your parents don’t raise you in a way that makes that behavior taboo then it’s more likely that you will. If you live in a drug infested neighborhood that is consumed by gangs make sure you take your child to and from where they need to go. Conversely, some of the children who behave violently are not from disadvantaged backgrounds, what can we say is their problem? Some may call me ignorant but I just don’t believe that there should be any excuses made. I have heard too many people many excuses for why parents can’t do what they need to do and quite frankly I’m tired of it.

Message from Montie said:

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There's really nothing I can say to top Ayesha's point. I hear black folks crying and moaning today about racism, but we aren't going through even a quarter of what was going on in the 1800s and early 1900s. We don't even have to deal with Jim Crow laws, no matter how much we'd like to accuse companies of not letting us in because we're black. We can now sue those companies. It's so easy to hide behind "the man," but as you pointed out, Ayesha, some of these parents are not hard up. Of course poverty can effect the parent's activities and how much free time is spent, but the thing that stood out to me about Tayale's message is the part about unemployment. If a person is NOT going to work everyday and is suffering from job loss, that's even more ammunition to get involved and volunteer. Besides applying for jobs and going on interviews, that should be the only thing stopping them from checking on their child(ren).

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