This is For You

Not even a week ago, a friend of mine said to me he was glad I no longer lived in Chicago because of how often one hears in news reports that yet another person had ben murdered. Then tonight, reading NPR’s blog, I ran across a sobering and meaningful story about the LA Times’ three-year-old Homicide Report that honors and introduces readers to those who have been slain in Los Angeles.

It reminded me of a story I wrote at the beginning of the year for a Chicago lifestyle publication. I never published it on this blog, so her it is.

This is For You

Kendrick and Carnell Pitts. And still there are more. Corey Harris. Raheem Washington and Corey McLaurin. The list has more names on it still.

Any of these names familiar to you? If they are, you’re culturally engaged. If they aren’t, let me remind you: They are five young men of the 36, at last count, between the ages of 13 and 21,who have been killed this year alone in Chicago. Statistics are numbing and easy to ignore, but don’t shy away. Keep reading.

The Associated Press reports: Before 2006, an average of 10-15 students in Chicago were fatally shot. In the 2006-2007 academic year, 23 deaths and 211 shootings. The 2007-2008 academic year saw 34 deaths and 290 shootings. The University of Chicago’s Crime Lab reports that in 2008, 510 people in Chicago were murdered. About half of those victims were between the ages of 10 and 25. A disproportionate number of them were young men of color.

Writing in second person, addressing your reading audience directly as “you” and making “we” references in formal writing is against typical journalistic form. But the times in which we live are nowhere near typical, so indulge me please.

This article is actually a plea to you. Yes, you. You, who are snuggled up on your sofa feeling safe from the thugs in your old neighborhood. You, who have picked this publication up because you hoped it would have tips for you about acquiring more property so you can keep up with the Joneses. Even you, who are reading this journal because you’re bored, and it was the first thing you got your hands on. It is to you. All of you.

The response to the violence pandemic in Chicago’s inner city neighborhoods is eerily similar to that of economic oppression and devastation seen in third world countries. “That’s them over there. What do they have to do with me?” The answer is simple. Everything.

We are all members of the same community—a global community. Whether you live in Roseland or The Gold Coast; Springfield, Illinois or Missouri; Mound Bayou, Mississippi or Kadoma, Zimbabwe, the person whom you’ve never met or seen before is your neighbor. You share something with him, with her.

The young people who’ve died (a great number of them senselessly) and even those who stole their lives had mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. They had best friends and crushes, just like your children, your niece, your nephew. Most of them had hopes and dreams. And there are those among them who, sadly, never learned that it was OK for them to dream, though they had the right. All of them needed affection and attention, just like you do. They, at some point or many, brought others laughter and wiped their tears. They are just like you and I are. Human.

Those of us who find ourselves feeding into an us/them dichotomy—“that’s them, over there”—have done a disservice to ourselves by not acknowledging the broader context in which we live. Within a marginalized group, as our people have been for centuries, who are we that we would relegate someone who shares our history to a subjugable position. Every “us” is, ultimately, another group’s “them.”

James Baldwin once said, it wasn’t the world that has been our oppressor, because what the world does, if it’s done long enough and effectively enough, we begin to do to ourselves. This urban genocide—a systematic destruction against our people by our people—proves that fact. And as it ensues, it’s not just people who are dying or a death toll that’s increasing. It’s the loss of a deep, rich legacy, which reaches well beyond the “We Shall Overcomes” of the 1960s. We are the progeny of those who endured hardships beyond our comprehension. It is we who actualize the visions of our ancestors. We have an opportunity to pass a torch that has continued to burn brightly though many have tried to extinguish it.

But instead, we chose apathy and disregard, or we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by it all and stand paralyzed watching destruction. Suppose our foreparents had done that. Instead of recognizing upon whose shoulders they stood knowing, that this work has always been (and will forever be) a collaborative effort, they assumed an I-got-mine-let-them-get-theirs attitude. Where would we be? Where would you be?

I ask … no, I beg you to care about more than you and yours, whoever “yours” may be. If you don’t, who will? If you don’t try, who will? If you don’t educate, love and empower, who will? Consider where you would be had the community not done it for you.

Listen … listen … the life of Derrion Albert just like Ella Baker’s and Medgar Evers’ wants to teach us something about ourselves, if we’ll listen. Listen. Learn. Then teach.

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~ by MsInklination on May 16, 2010.

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