Somebody just tried to kill my little sister! Like most of us, she works hard to put food on the table. She has a son and daughter, both still in diapers. She has a mortgage, student loans, and a greedy little dog named Sir. Everyday she pounds the pavement in and around Chicago, trying to make a living doing real estate.
At 9:45 a.m. last Friday, she found herself parked on a residential block in the city’s notorious Roseland neighborhood on the far South Side. Having just wrapped up a phone call, she put her hand on the door handle to get out of her car. That’s when all hell broke loose.
A car pulled up in the middle of the street, just in front of her. Two guys in black hoodies and masks jumped out, guns drawn. She watched a young man, who she later learned was 26, come out of a house. Seeing the gunned men, he immediately began to run, but there was nowhere for him to go except down the gangway of the house. It turned out to be a tunnel of death. The men sprayed him with bullets.
Then they saw her, my baby sister who had absolutely nothing to do with any of this. Now looking into the barrel of a gun, she flipped her car in reverse and sped down the street backwards, praying and hiding below the steering wheel. Her 2004 Mercedes-Benz was her shield, her bulletproof vest. It took the six rounds on her behalf, busting up its radiator and air conditioning unit. Miraculously, she didn’t crash the car into anything or anyone in her escape.
The police told my sister that the Roseland community is a war zone. That the young man who was murdered had drugs in his pocket, and he was most likely killed over it. They cautioned that the killers might never be caught, that they see this everyday. They marveled that she wasn’t dead, too.
She told me that she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I corrected her using the words of Father Michael Pfleger, an outspoken Catholic priest who is leading the charge against gun violence in Chicago’s poor black and Latino neighborhoods. “Don’t ever say you were at the wrong place at the wrong time,” I said, paraphrasing his words. “You did nothing wrong. The shooters were at the wrong place at the wrong time!”
This is my diary, the diary of a mad black teacher. I am hurt. I am frustrated. I AM ANGRY! It was my sister last week, but it could be me the next. Worse, it could be my own child. It’s common for school children to get gunned down while playing on their block, so many parents force them to stay indoors. I came to work on Monday wondering which one of my students has to live in fear of getting shot in their neighborhoods. The answer is most of them.
I remember hearing gunshots from outside my classroom window when I taught at a school in Englewood, another dangerous Chicago neighborhood. It seemed that the thugs purposely waited until dismissal to start shooting. What a horrible chaotic sight it was to see hordes of students running down the street in a panic trying to get back into the locked school building.
I am mad that a few years ago a man was shot across the street from that school in the morning. He ran, bleeding, across the school’s playground where all the children were playing and then collapsed in the neighboring vacant lot. This is how the kids started their school day.
I am mad that almost every weekend, one of my former students’ relatives or friends had gotten shot.
And I am mad that one of our eighth grade students was arrested and charged with murder at that school.
Pastor Corey Brooks took the radical step of camping out on the top of a vacant motel for 94 winter days in Chicago to raise awareness of the violence epidemic and to raise funds to build a community center on the site. From Nov. 23 to Feb. 24, he braved the cold weather on the roof, coming down only twice to eulogize two young black men at his church across the street from the motel. Movie mogul Tyler Perry gave Pastor Brooks the last $100,000 he needed to come off the roof and buy the property.
I am thinking. I am praying. What can I do to help stop the violence? The marches don’t seem to work. The makeshift memorials with candles and teddy bears make me sick to my stomach. I am open to your ideas.
I am just grateful that I got to hug my sister, kiss her cheek, and tell her that I loved her—and that she was able to hug me back. Too often it’s just a one-way conversation.
UPDATE 3/14/12: Thank you so much for your well wishes my sister and our family. She is recovering fine. We are now all the more aware of the kinds of trauma many of our inner-city students experience on a regular basis. We are also more committed to doing something about it!
The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.