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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Faith

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “In Good Faith.”

My faith has fluctuated throughout my life. I grew up Roman catholic, then lost touch and have, over time, found a comfortable level of faith-based beliefs and independent spirituality. I believe in God and that He gave us free will.  I believe that miracles can happen. I believe that we sometimes face challenges that help us learn and grow. I believe that He can intervene in life but I am sometimes confused how it all works, the why and how of it, and I don’t believe that He saves close parking spaces.

I recognize times in my life when I got a favor and I was clearly given a hand, if you will, though I struggle with faith in other situations. I had an alternator go out while I was driving on a city street but I was able to keep the car running long enough during a brief red light to turn a corner, turn into a business parking lot and park the car in a towable parking space before the car completely shut off. I believe that I was kept safe in a situation that could have gone wrong. I was a on a two-lane street with no street parking available, my panel was not lit and I had no idea of the speed I was going. If the car stopped in the middle of the street, it likely would have resulted in an accident. This car presented me with other similar situations and I was protected each time, thank God. I also believe that God has helped me through some tough times.

I struggle with faith when it comes to bad things repeatedly happening to good people and the suffering they endure, seemingly while bad people carry on with minimal consequences. They somehow manage to get sympathy, justification for their bad behavior and, in some cases, multiple chances for redemption, while others get the book thrown at them for the smallest of infractions. I am told that they will “get theirs in the end”, that “God’s justice is not the same as human’s justice”, and that “everyone deserves a second chance.” Yes, and I am familiar with the Holy Bible’s stance on this  in Matthew 18:21-22 NASB.

“Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

I get that we are all human and that we will have our day of judgment to answer for what we have done in our lives. I am even sympathetic to the plight of the wronged and abused who were not taught a better way and committed horrible acts but I believe that they still, in many cases other than severe mental illness, made a choice. We are all held accountable for our actions and the choices we make, especially as adults. I believe in forgiveness and its power to free us, yet I also believe that our forgiveness of others can be taken for granted.

I believe in free will and I believe in divine intervention, but I often wonder how God decides when and when not to intervene. Why does He intervene in some situations and not others, especially a situation of magnitude? Or did He try to intervene and the people were willful, preventing a different outcome? I contempt this as I see terror attacks, wars, crimes against humanity by companies, countries and individuals, oppression, child abuse, and a world in which the most basic human freedoms are being restrained and struck down by powerful individuals working for the supposed “greater good”.

I have faith that there are good people who care about others and about what is going on around them, and I have faith that they can make a difference by speaking out, helping and educating others and by just being honest, decent human beings. Maybe God is using them as instruments to fight back against the evil order at work. Although I try to be a realist, I remain optimistic that life can get better, even as I see signs of life getting harder, and that humanity can band together to fight for true good – freedom, liberty, healthy non-genetically modified food, clean air and water, self-defense, self-sufficiently, an end to wars and power struggles, true healthcare rather than sickcare, individualism and respect for our likenesses and differences. We all need to have faith.