Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Conscientious Fight

My daughter lives in a beautiful neighborhood in a Chicago suburb, and one of my favorite Chicago activities is walking these neighborhoods. In all the neighborhoods I have walked or driven past, every street is a tree lined street, and most of these trees could be 50-100 years old. Every few blocks amid the humble homes, one will happen on a street with mansions that tickle the imagination.

The humidity makes everything lushy-green and flower-abundant. Bunnies and chipmunks dart about. Meeting and conversing with people is always a possibility. With little tiger in the stroller one day, I passed a woman from Sudan waiting with her two year old for an older child who would soon be getting off the bus. My deathly-pale grandson needed to meet this adorable dark brown two year old Abriel. His mother told me that before she came to America, she spent four years in a refugee camp. She is proud all her children were born in America.

There is however, one street I never go past on foot: Howard. I frequently drive Howard and see nothing dangerous from the safety of my car, but I know from warnings and others' experiences (a friend was mugged and his computer stolen), to not walk in the vicinity of Howard.

My daughter loves her neighborhood. When I read the news and report back to her, Homicides up 52% in 2016, and Chicago Braces for Summer Blood Bath, she bristles and defends her beloved Chicago.

This past week though, while sitting together on her big brown couch, she admited that one night they heard gunshots. Her reaction was anger. Anger at the violence possibly moving closer to home.

Tony flies home a few days later and sits next to a military man who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He reports that south side Chicago is more dangerous than either war-torn country.

"But," my daughter reminds me, "we live in a north Chicago suburb."

"Then the citizens have to fight back."

"They are," she insists, but I wonder how this little mother of two babies is going to fight back.

The citizens have to fight back to keep this neighborhood safe not only for their own families but for the families that left Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, all seeking a better life. It's why my family came two generations and five and six generations ago; it's why families will continue to cross borders, mountains, and oceans. A better life. There is so much to lose.

On a stroller walk one day, I see signs of that fight, a yard sign and a mural on the outside wall of a school.

 We are like a box of crayons each one of us unique
 When we get together the picture is complete

These signs remind me of an island off the coast of Africa. My friend comes from Mauritius and from her I learned of a 12 minute, Covey Institute documentary about the island. The island is densely populated by people of many cultures, races, and religions, yet the island is a bastion of peace and prosperity. Police don't carry guns. All religious celebrations are national holidays. Children attend school with children raised in diverse cultures.

The island, contrary to all the bad examples, demonstrates that peace is possible among diverse people. But it just didn't happen. It takes consciousness and more than acceptance. It takes recognition and acknowledgement that people working together is better than working against one another. The island isn't thriving in spite of its diversity but because of its diversity.

The news-making violence in Chicago is not violence perpetuated by one culture against another. The predicted blood bath, the statistics, show it is black violence against blacks. Typical gang violence, and so at the heart of violence, it appears that violence, thrives when there are two opposing groups each vying for power. The many nations who joined the two world wars had to join one side or the other: the axis vs. the allies. Any two sport teams go onto the field, onto the court, understanding a clear winner will emerge. Competition would be almost impossible if five teams played on one field for the title of "winner." Chaotic conflict of many factions can't be resolved and eventually evolves into realization that respect and acceptance must be consciously sought after in order for peace to be maintained. Instead of the emergence of one winner, everyone wins.

While attending an AP conference for English Literature, I met a man who teaches at an ethnically diverse school, where students wear the hijab, where boys where skirts, where students literally have been in America for two days. The school identified nine different gangs, but the gang leaders came together and decided the high school would be neutral territory: a safe place to learn, develop, and become educated. It's still gang infested, but it's a first step towards hope and a much different scenario from the two-gang all out war of the Bloods and the Crips (who supposedly have united to defeat ISIS).

What is the solution? For Chicago? For the entire world?

I wish I knew; I wish it were simple. It may be that fear of the other is warranted, but this fear may be put to rest by insuring there are many others. It may be that my daughter and her neighbors need to stay in Chicago to protect Chicago-it needs their diversity to survive---

no-- to thrive.