I’ve lived in Humboldt Park for a couple of years. I’ve loved the diversity of the neighborhood, the proximity to the park and having a street where neighbors sit on their stoops in the evening, walk up to fences to pet each other’s dogs, help mow lawns for each other in the summer and shovel sidewalks in the winter.
This summer started off mostly normal. It is still Chicago, so naturally there is crime. But near the end of July, it seemed that new faces were showing up on the block every night and criminal activity was picking up quickly. By the end of August, we’d had two full shoot-outs on our street, both on weeknights, both before midnight. One of them took out a window of a charter school one week before classes were set to start. The other took place in front of a now empty CPS site that is scheduled to be developed to house teachers next spring.
You don’t see the neighbors that much anymore. Many were outside talking the night of the first shooting and nearly missed being hit by inches or feet. And to say that people are on edge after being awakened by gunfire on a regular basis is an understatement.
I know this isn’t unique to my block or my neighborhood this summer. People in the South Loop recently held a well-publicized meeting to ask what can be done about the violence that’s slowly taking over what most considered a “very safe” area until recently. But what this has made me realize is the true impact that living with violence can have on a person.
People on the south and west sides of Chicago have lived with this stress for many years. It’s easy to read quotes in a news story about people worrying about getting home in one piece and dismiss it, but for too many people, it is a daily reality. Fear. Anger. Confusion. Helplessness. This seems to be the pattern for so many people in Chicago.
As kids are starting back to school, the issue seems even more relevant, especially to those of us who work with kids at schools all over the city and want to keep them safe. I’ve found a strange sense of peace in knowing that, while I can’t control what’s happening around my home, I can help to try to change that pattern of fear and hopelessness that so many people feel by doing my job. Most of the schools that we work with are in areas that have some of the highest rates of violence in the city, and if adults are fearful in these circumstances, just imagine being a young girl.
Girls in the Game isn’t here just to get girls involved in sports. We are here to help to create leaders, girls who are proud of who they are, know how to make difficult and strong decisions, and who help those around them make better choices. Girls in the Game gives girls a space to talk about feelings of confusion and helplessness and helps them to find ways to deal with those feelings in a positive, productive manner.
Change is not a fast process, and it truly starts with one person. One person at a time. Imagine the change that can happen when 3,500 girls each year feel confident enough to stand up and speak against behavior they know is wrong. One less person in a gang. One less person with a gun. I think everyone likes those thoughts. Now think about 3,500 girls with low confidence, unhealthy behavior or a lack of guidance. Girls in the Game is working to make sure those girls and those around them don’t suffer from factors such as those. That wave of change could be the difference in not just the city of Chicago but the country as a whole.
I’m not going to say that it’s not scary to think about what might happen when walking home or even going to sleep at night. I’ve gone through the fear, the anger and the confusion. The one step in that pattern that I won’t take part in is helplessness, and if I, and the rest of the team at Girls in the Game, continue to do our jobs, we’re helping others eliminate that feeling, too. Learning to work with others, learning to lead….these are the things that will be agents of change in the future. This is what I want for all of the girls that we serve. Ultimately, it’s what I want for everyone. If people feel empowered and respected, positive change happens. Everyone plays a part in that.
It’s been a tough summer in Chicago and I don’t think anyone is going to be exactly the same when winter finally comes. Even watching the news every day seems to take a toll. But if people can open up and talk through their feelings with each other and work to find solutions that give them some sense of control, change will come. Teamwork is one of the tenants of Girls in the Game programs, and it’s probably the most important one. Together, we can do amazing things. Alone, it’s just back to that pattern.