Along with typical childhood concerns about schoolwork, family and relationships with peers, the children of Chicago’s West Side also have to deal with gun violence.
So far in 2016, there have been 267 homicides in Chicago, compared to 489 homicides citywide in all of 2015, according to the Chicago Tribune. The highest concentration of deadly violence is in the West Side neighborhood of Austin, where there have been 32 homicides so far this year.
On a Monday afternoon in Humboldt Park – just east of Austin – three men were hit in a drive-by shooting. Schools were still in session, students studying and trying to concentrate – while three people were nearly murdered right outside. Police say the suspects took off in a burgundy van. Now kids have to worry about their homework and that burgundy van.
These kids aren’t direct victims of gun violence, but that violence right outside their doors has a devastating impact.
“What’s being done?” asks Georgette Le Page, founder and director of the Counseling Center for Emotional Growth, which has offices in Skokie, Oak Park and Lake County in Illinois. “I have a patient whose best friend was paralyzed. He knows two boys paralyzed by gun violence.”
But her patient is one of the lucky ones, Le Page says. “At least he’s getting therapy!”
When shootings happen in communities in broad daylight, it becomes more real for the children who call those communities home.
“Fear is not a factor,” Le Page says. “These kids with guns are willing to take more risks until something bad happens. They have no hope.”
Community activist Andrew Holmes is a victim of gun violence himself. “It took me six months to learn how to walk all over again,” Holmes says in an interview with CBS 2 Chicago.
He now does a whole lot of walking, marching, protesting and pleading. He dedicates his life to helping young victims like he once was, and tells CBS 2, “I can feel deep down a lot of the pain a lot of them go through because I just about didn’t make it.”
So how do you stop the pain? How do you stop the violence, or at least protect children living on Chicago’s West Side from it?
“They end up on drugs or alcohol to stop the pain,” Le Page says.
But there is another way.
“Boarding schools,” she says. “It’s safe for kids to live there, they get a good education, good food, good role models. The tuition is free, the education is better, kids are not exposed to drugs or crime.”
Sounds like a nice idea, but is it realistic? One beacon of hope on the West Side is Christ the King Jesuit College Prep. The school’s stated mission is to be a school that “challenges and inspires its young women and men through the integration of academics, work experience and extracurricular activities to lead lives of integrity, faith and servant leadership for the greater glory of God.”
The school says 97.8 percent of its graduates attend college. But in the past five years that number has actually been 100 percent. Schools like Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois, Arizona, Loyola, Marquette and even Cornell. Ivy leaguers – from Chicago’s West Side. For most kids on the West Side, the emphasis on education just isn’t there.
“Education is so bad, it’s scary,” Le Page says. “Kids have no idea what good educational activity even means.”
But schools like Christ the King show that kids can not only survive in the most dangerous of neighborhoods in Chicago, they can thrive. In the right environment, kids are hungry to learn, to be active and positive.
“Sometimes they’re just hungry,” Le Page says. “I used to teach third grade at Cabrini Green. I’d give the kids cheese and apples, and guess what? They showed up. They were hungry. Kids need to be rewarded for coming to school.”
Nourishment can be found in the most unlikely of neighborhoods in Chicago. The violence isn’t going away, and it has a profound impact on the kids who are not protected from it. Schools like Christ the King strive to create a community “committed to ‘curs personalis’, that is, care of a whole person – mind body and soul.”
May 9 was a violent day across the entire city. Chicago police say one person was killed, eight in all wounded in shootings. Most cases were gang-related. Police do a good job of keeping track of who was shot, killed, wounded or in other ways harmed by the violence.
What they don’t keep track of are the children traumatized by the violence right outside their door. Children who can make good or bad decisions the rest of their lives based on fear. Children who will one day run this city.
David Parrish is executive producer at CBS in Chicago. He’s a graduate of Central Michigan and a guest lecturer at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. He wrote this story as part of the Journalism for Social Change massive online open course.