Last night, while I slept, there was a shooting less than a block from my apartment. Seven young men were wounded, several of them critically, when someone ran through a vacant lot and opened fire on a group of bystanders.
Homan and Walnut is a notorious corner in our neighborhood. There is nearly always a group of people hanging out in front of the convenience store on the corner. I have heard stories of the covert drug trafficking business that takes place in and around the store. Even the blue police observance camera has not deterred it. If you have ever seen the HBO miniseries or read the book, The Corner, by David Simon and Edward Burns, you would have an image of what that corner is like. It is a center of commiserating hopelessness, an emblem of a crumbling community crippled by spiraling poverty, joblessness and despair.
We are living in a war zone. Research shows that gang members living in the city are seven times more likely to become casualties of this war than they would be if they had been deployed to Iraq in the height of the conflict. Yet this war goes on in our back yards with little fanfare or public outcry, perhaps because we are confounded by it and tend to blame the victims.
Granted, every individual who was out there on the corner last night could probably have made a better choice about where to be and what to do on a nice Chicago evening. But there are too few options in communities like ours and life seems cheap and dispensable for our young people when they have the very real sense that no one cares. No one cares enough about their welfare to ensure that they are given a good education with marketable skills, or that they have even half a chance of ever actualizing their dreams, if they even have the audacity to still dream.
So the mounting distress finally gets released, turned in upon young black men by young black men, and the rest of us shake our heads and believe that if we were in their situation we would be different. We would pull together self-esteem from some dark hole and walk past the guys on the corner with their wads of money. We would flip burgers at a greasy spoon for eight bucks an hour and save every penny for our future. We would be home working on our homework while people around us scream at each other about who took the last piece of food and how they are going to pay the rent. We would get ourselves out of that hell hole and never look back. Why? Because we know that’s not the way life is supposed to be, for us, for anyone.
We are calling people back in to the East Garfield Park community, to rebuild it, to restore hope. Some of us have relocated from outside the community to join the many warriors who have stayed, who have been faithfully working, hoping and praying for its renewal. Others are returning with a dream. A dream that things can change. That a network of shalom can replace the spiral of despair. That healthy community can be restored, kids can learn, jobs can be created, loving families can support one another in raising healthy happy children. It’s a dream that must not fail. It’s a big dream.