When I was a little girl living in Milwaukee my mother had to march the city streets to help desegregate our city and our schools. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, because of what is happening in our city of Chicago. In the last year or so we have been splitting and disintegrating. Our libraries are closing, our schools are closing and our children are dying. I say our, but with the state of our city being as divided as it is of late, there are many people who would simply say THOSE libraries, THOSE schools, and THOSE children, distancing themselves from the fray and any responsibility. Does this mean that Chicago is divided by racism? It’s not a huge leap given that the libraries, the schools and the children are almost exclusively on the South and West sides of Chicago. If you live on the North and East sides of Chicago and don’t do business or have friends on the South or West sides of the city, the thought of crossing the invisibile borderline could quicken your heart rate, especially if you make a habit of watching the news…ever. The media makes it seem like THOSE people are dangerous and beyond redemption. But THOSE people are widely African American which makes such thoughts racist.
Here’s my parental confession. My daughter wanted to go and hang out with some friends at a park across the street from Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park and I got a lump in my throat. Images of Hadiya Pendleton flashed through my head and I got scared. I got very scared, but I still let her go. Why? Because the Hadiya Pendelton murder was horrible, but it was one event, not a mandate to alienate an entire community, race or geographical location. But that’s what it has felt like to a lot of people, especially parents. Case in point. This past weekend Walter Payton College Prep’s baseball team forfeited their game against Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep. Why? Well, despite having played a complete game with a full roster of players earlier in the day Payton didn’t have enough players to play a game at the far South side Brooks school in the evening. Now Payton is claiming this was because of AP test prep, suspension threats, transportation issues, even late notice, but the story that started this all was that the real reason there weren’t enough players was because of racism. It was said that a number of the parents weren’t willing to allow their Near North side children play a night game at a Far South side location. Despite the fact that Gwendolyn Brooks is a college preparatory school like Walter Payton. Despite the fact that many of the Walter Payton teams had played games in the past against Gwendolyn Brooks teams at their school. Despite the fact the the beautiful Brooks Campus sports a spectacular ball field complete with lights for night games. Despite the fact that Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep provides a full contingent of security at games. Despite the fact that Brooks has never had an incident of violence at a sporting event before. Despite all of that there were enough parents to cripple the Walter Payton College Prep baseball team roster for the evening game of April 28th and force a forfeit. Well, someone did make the pilgrimage from Walter Payton College Prep to the Gwendolyn Brooks Campus, the Payton baseball coach. He went to inform the Brooks coach of the forfeit and personally apologize on behalf of his team. At least that is one version of the story. As I am sure you can imagine, there are several being bandied back and forth by now as CPS and the principals of both schools try to shore up the riverbank of public opinion to stave off a flood of anger, resentment, frustration, and angst about racism. It’s a reasonable concern because the disparity of education, resources, and employment opportunities between one side of the city and the other is the fuse of a powder keg of a racial conflict the likes of which this city has not seen since the days of civil rights conflicts.
Now the CPS powers that be may be able to keep this Payton/Brooks situation in check. In fact they have already moved to reschedule the forfeited game for Saturday May 11. (As I understand it this will be only an exhibition game and the original win, via forfeit, will remain firmly in the Brooks column.) But even this attempt to “right a wrong” will only delay not prevent the inevitable. It’s getting hot in Chicago, and I’m not talking about the change in the weather, though that actually will make things worse too. Citizens are being stretched past their limits. The culprit isn’t a misinformed parent who out of fear makes a poor judgment call on behalf of their child, or even a racist parent who just doesn’t see the equality of value in the races. It’s not about those individuals it’s about the system. A system that appears to be cultivating racism. A system in Chicago that is not providing an equal and solid foundation for personal growth, community enrichment, or future prosperity. Thus the real culprits are the people in power who aren’t seeing to the needs of Chicagos’ constituents… all of them. The question is, what are we as a society going to do about it?
As I follow the journey of parents passionately fighting to keep their neighborhood schools open against the Chicago School Boards’ attempts to close them (#cpsclosing), the preachers using their sermons to combat violence, parents launching foundations to keep kids off of the street and in school, individuals protesting for better wages, I think of my mother and the sacrifices she made so that her children and her grandchildren could have equal and fair opportunities to build a life and a prosperous future in the big city to the North of Chicago and other cities around the country. It looks to me like the progress she and people like her made 40+ years ago is in need of a tune up. It is our turn to strap on a good pair of shoes and march, for everyone. Because divided we are failing. Perhaps it is time that we stood up, united. What do you think?
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