The other morning, I woke up to a news story that caught me off guard. There had been a series of violent attacks against students who attend Urban Prep, an all-boys college preparatory high school here in Chicago. The network of schools has three campuses and boasts very impressive numbers in terms of graduating college-bound students. Its students must embrace a culture of mutual respect, accountability and nonviolence . So no doubt the basic premise of the report caused me to shake my head in dismay. For goodness sake, how disgraceful is it students on a path to be their best selves are targets of ruthless, loose aggression…every day?
As a mother of a soon to be high school student, I can’t begin to imagine how I would encourage my child to adhere to a school’s creed of being non-violent while bearing the brunt of fists. I’d be livid…not to mention frightened out of my mind. In fact, this acute fear has reached me on a personal level. Over the last few years, my children and their classmates who attend another network of Charter schools here in the city have faced similar incidents involving children from neighboring schools or who hang out in the area surrounding their schools. Thank God the incidents at my son’s middle school last year resulted in nothing more than a bruised jaw and ribs. That was mild in comparison to the many violent robberies of laptops that have happened, shootings at the high school. None of this initiated or provoked by the students.
So as a parent I completely identify with the outrage of the Urban Prep parents who want something done. One of the most attractive facets of charter schools is that parents’ voices are solicited and embraced. And these parents were not shy about voicing their concerns. Point blank they want their children to learn in peace; free from stress and worry of the long way home. Their children do not deserve to deal with this type of trauma. They expect community support including police presence to put an end to it all. More than that, though, they are willing to step up themselves.
That is a beautiful thing.
Still, there is an ugly side to all this…. a path that leads us back into the defeated cycle of failed community. And it is imperative that we fully examine and rectify every angle.
When I heard this story, what caught my attention more than anything was the reporter’s lead and characterization of the youthwho attacked the students. The reporter stated that the motive behind the attacks was the Urban Prep’s impressive academic reputation. I’m sorry, but I find that hard to believe. Other remarks followed describing the youth as gangs and thugs.
First of all, Urban Prep is a non-selective enrollment school (thank God for that, Chicago needs more schools that serve all its students equally with the expectation of success. But I digress). So there is nothing determining whether the children donning the Urban Prep uniforms are any smarter or any more proficient than those throwing fists. Nor was there any irrefragable proof that they all live in housing projects and belong to gangs (and which gang have deep seated rivalry with innocent school boys?)
When we allow media to frame our stories and direct our course of conversation, it reinforces stereotypes our community homologates about ourselves, especially concerning our youth.
The bottom line is this, for all who saw the movie Waiting for Superman, or for those who are living the movie; whether it be concerning decent education, housing or basic quality of life, we all are aware that the youth are the ones who suffer and it breeds a spirit of anger and resentment when for no other reason than socio-economics you are left out by design.
What thought process goes into building a shiny new school in an area surrounded by devastation while neglecting to do any community outreach and engagement? What were the expectations of dressing students up in crisp uniformed suits to walk with heads high amongst those who can only look low for loose change and lost hope? I ask again what was expected?
Too often we want to walk among the community, but not with the community. Community is not a neighborhood. It is not only about geographical boundaries. It is about common goals, shared values, thought or communicative exchange.
So now today parents and school officials must scramble to do what is absolutely necessary given the initial dilatory negligence.
See, we must understand the children at Urban Prep are there but for one reason, they have advocates. Either their parents, grandparents, neighbor, mentor or church family is making sure they have every opportunity to keep them eligible for fair play in the game of life. This does not make them any better than the children who reside in the nearby public housing, nor the ones who used to live there before their respective families were forcefully evicted, yet they still come back to the old ‘hood misdirected.
No. None of our children are better than the other, save but the grace of God they could switch places at any moment.
They have more in common than we would like to believe. And I would affirm they are all capable of greatness. They all have the potential to excel. Every one of them needs love and guidance. They all need model standards and mentors.
So what are we going to do about our youth…about our babies? Because at the end of the day, you can proceed ahead believing that your child is better than a child based on your income level or the fact that their parents are recipients of section 8. You can believe your nephew is promised a bright shining future because he attends the best ranking school in the nation. But, here is the reality check chickens come home to roost. So you can build up the few to fall to the many.
Here’s my two cents.
Hold community meetings and symposiums with the COMMUNITY; you provide resources like mentoring opportunities for neighborhood youth; job opportunities or free legal advice
Open the gym for basketball tourneys
Host peer mentor session partnering students w/community youth
Our view of the world is only as good as our point of reference. How we choose to view our youth will tell us for sure what our tomorrow holds. Are they all either good or ghetto? Perhaps they are either nerd or thugs? Is every at risk child an incorrigible monster destined to fail?
The Interrupters, a Sundance Film offers a clear view of solutions. Watch it and use as a beginning to address this issue in your city.
Fixing the broken reality of a few is akin to bandaging an open gunshot wound. You get the picture?