Next week, I'll be in Chicago.
I think a lot about Chicago, mostly about the people I love.
Then I think about the people I've met in Chicago. The strangers I've encountered. The strangers I care about. Every stranger in Chicago has a story. Every stranger is a potential friend. Whether it's the Nigerian woman on the corner waiting for her children; or the Muslim, black cloth covered girls in Target; whether it's the young black man asking for money to bury his friend killed in gang warfare who stands outside of Whole Foods Market; whether it's the hedge fund manager with a top floor office in downtown--everyone has a story.
I understand why my daughter loves Chicago--because she loves people and the people have stories.
Even when the stories have a sad ending. Over Memorial Day weekend 58 people were shot of whom 6 died. The saddest story concerns a mother of three who was sitting in her car when a bullet pierced her window and found its way to her spine. She lays comatose in a hospital, her mother waiting to take her home. Yet, taking her home looks bleak.
The mother of the comatose woman is grandmother to three children who need their mom. Their mom who also supports the family. Grandma wants to flee the violence and created a Gofundme account asking for $50,000. With that magical sum, she believes she can find an apartment where "white people live...where they can walk to the store" without getting shot. Before the NYTimes story, the account collected $200 in almost three months. After a few days on the front page, the account has reached $13, 459. While at my computer, I refresh the page and my heart dances as I watch it climb.
While in Chicago, I say to my daughter, "Why can't we go down to south side Chicago and help some people?" She smiles at her altruistic wanna-be Mom and thinks how naive I am.
Of all those people who are shot in south side Chicago, a small percentage die and most likely make the news, if only as a statistic. Recently Nykea Aldridge, a cousin of basketball star Dwayne Reed, was shot and killed in one of those crazy, senseless, drive by south side Chicago shootings. Finally, I thought, a person with a connection to a celebrity who might step in and help the problem. This was before the Memorial Day shootings and no, it doesn't seem to have made a difference.
But the other people who live...like the comatose woman--whose medical bills keep climbing, whose bills won't get paid, who children will not be cared for ...what about them? I've already imagined finding some of these people, going to their homes, telling them I care, bringing a gift to momentarily ease their burdens. I know I won't or can't go by myself; I can't risk taking my daughter, the mother of two small children. I wonder if my son-in-law would go with me, then reality hits and I feel foolish with self doubt and grandiose save-everyone desires and ask Who do I think I am?
I remember the weekend when my two daughters and I rented bikes in Central Park and rode them into Harlem. To me, we were just white people in a black neighborhood and why should that matter?
An older woman, came up to me as I rested my foot on the curb, and told me I needed to leave Harlem right away. I took her advice and we peddled straight back to the safety of "where the white people live..." I will never know the exact reason for the warning. Was I not allowed among this culture? Was I in danger?
When President Obama, who was once a senator from Chicago, announced he would live in a beautiful DC suburb while his daughter finishes school, who has supposedly purchased a California estate to reside in after, I felt a kind of disappointment that he didn't move back to south side Chicago to help the people. Imagine the impact! Surely it would change if the ex-president and his messages of peace could be applied to one of the most violent places in the world.
A few years ago, I was asked to assess the education efforts of a charity working in war torn Sudan. There was a cease fire and I was ready to go...until my husband came to me and asked if I would reconsider. It was a dangerous place and I was too much to lose for my children, for my husband. I couldn't argue with his plea. I never went.
Recently, my daughter and her nice neighborhood where white people live... have heard gunshots. Blocks away is the crossroad of two feuding gangs. My daughter wants to help, wants to be involved in the community action that communed last month to come up with solutions to fight the violence that has now reached into those desirable, violence free neighborhoods.
She has a lot of hope, is determined to not move, and was excited to facilitate change. When I asked her how the first meeting went, she had to sadly admit she never went. The meeting was held at night in a place where she wouldn't have felt safe.
People want to help. People want to save lives. People want others to feel safe, to know their children can play on the school playground without getting shot. Collectively, we will donate enough money to move one family out of Chicago south side--but how many are left?
At the same time I am disappointed in myself that I lack the chutzpah, the fortitude, to go and make a difference, not once or twice, but many times. What is the difference between a fool and a game changer? Is one a necessary step to the other? Or am I seeing it backwards and does the precursor to game changer require wisdom? With hope, I cling to wisdom and precaution, that my daughter and I can be part of a solution that requires wisdom and sometimes that takes standing at the edge of a fire for warmth and not jumping in and getting burned.
I pray for that wisdom, that patience, and an opportunity.
Maybe that will be helping with one family at a time.
$24,960 10:30 p.m. EST