Thoughts on Embracing our differences and similarities as people, Chicago, and Violence…

I feel for the people who lost loved ones and community members in South Carolina. If you feel safe anywhere, it should be in your community and especially in a house of worship. I am truly sorry for the pain and suffering that these families and this community are going through.

As someone who grew up in, lived in, and worked in Chicago for most of her life, I am fully aware of the violence and hardship that people of Chicago go through on a daily basis. I was a Case Manager for a prevention and intervention program with juveniles on the Southside and Westside of the city. I met many families that suffered the loss of loved ones to violence, namely gangs and guns. I feel fortunate that I never witnesses any shootings while visiting many neighborhoods that make the news: Englewood, Back of the Yards, Lawndale, Little Village, Grand Crossing, Chicago Lawn, Marquette Park, Gresham, South Shore and others. I did see mob fights, domestic violence in public, people getting run down by rival gangs, and drug transactions. I often saw the aftermath of violence with police and emergency vehicles flying by, and I got good at listening to my instincts. The violence and tragic situations I speak of happened while handguns were still banned in Chicago, which was not overturned  and new laws implemented until 2013.

My job was to help youth and families to the best of my ability, and I did.  I was not perfect. My clients came from many walks of life in Kenwood/Hyde Park, Bronzeville, Canaryville, Brighton Park and they were Black, White, Latino, mixed race, documented, undocumented, poor, middle-class and toward the upper-middle class. Some of these families met me at humanity, taking what I could offer in support, information, service referrals and financial means. Some families agreed to our program rather than having to sit in juvenile court, doing the bare minimum until I disappeared. A few families were blatant in telling me that “you couldn’t possibly know what it’s like. It’s not like where you come from,” as they sneered and looked me up and down as if I were a martian from the outer space.

Admittedly, I don’t know what it’s like to be anyone other than me – a white, middle-class female from the Southwest side of Chicago, who grew up with short-hair, a German-English name in a neighborhood full of Ryan, O’Neil, McCarthy, McLaughlin, Coughlin and Dougherty, playing a sport that no one but my brother and I played, teased mercilessly for said reasons, in a family on a tight budget, and being a shy kid on top that. I travelled around the city to play tennis as I got older and felt fairly accepted at Hyde Park Tennis club, where I was one of the few white players and at McFetridge Tennis Center on the Northside, one in a rainbow of cultures. These people were educated and well-mannered in a very diverse environment and, if they didn’t like me or want me there, it wasn’t obvious to me.

I have learned that you typically know mostly what you are exposed to. For example, young people growing up in a neighborhood with people who think a certain way, raise their families a certain way, worship or not, educated or not, are molded as they develop. That’s anyone, even me. If you live in a crowded, noisy, violent environment, going to a rural, peaceful, small environment will be a very life-changing experience.  For the youth and families who were receptive to new opportunities, I was open with them and tried to offer them a chance to learn and grow, yet still be who they were. I learned a lot from some of these families and missed them after the case was complete. I felt sad for the youth and families that just saw a “white girl from the suburbs” (which I’m not) who came into their lives to tell them why they were wrong or bad or needed to change, instead of seeing a chance to work together to enrich their lives. We were not people to each other,  we were a White person and a Black/ Latino/etc. person, and it was your culture against mine. My job was not to “change” or “fix’ these families, it was to extend opportunities to their sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren to keep out of or from returning to the system at large.

I get that on some level, I am not the typical “white experience” that some of my client families had previously encountered but some were not willing to give me or the program designed specially for disadvantaged, underprivileged youth from populations with high rates of arrest, imprisonment, gang violence and gun violence to keep them alive and from becoming a news blurb and a statistic.  Overall, I feel that I had good success with my clients and that our program helped a lot of people in Chicago. I know that racism exists, and I, too, have experienced it. I hope that these families not only saw someone who cared and genuinely wanted to help, but also found that people can reach across cultural divides to help them and their communities and to enrich humanity. By embracing our similarities and our differences, we can overcome many of the problems our country and our society face. We are more alike than we are different, we are  all human beings.

© 2015 blogdaysofchrell

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