Tuesday, April 8, 2008

23rd CPS student killed - How do we stop the violence?

On Sunday, a CPS high schooler was beaten to death with a baseball bat, making him the 23rd student killed this 2007-2008 academic year. (I believe I earlier stated, erroneously, that 20 students have died since January. Rather, it's since September). Still, this school year has proven to be outpacing last year as the deadliest year for Chicago Public Schools in decades.

I know that everytime I open up the web page of the Chicago Tribune and see the headline "Chicago teenager killed," my heart starts racing, hoping it's not one of my kids. Thankfully, none of our students has been involved in any incidents of the kind this year, but still there's always that small possibility. I can tell the sheer number of students killed, especially in the month of March, the deadliest month so far, is weighing on my students. I hear talk of being scared to walk to school, or to go outside of their neighborhood.

These similar sentiments are echoed in a wonderful article, that was in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday, about how violence is affecting the lives of CPS students who just want a safe place to learn and live. Most of the students who were killed were not involved in gangs, drugs or any other violent groups. They were simply young people caught in the crossfire of a dangerous environment.

So what do organizations such as Cabrini Connections and Tutor/Mentor Connection do about all this violence? I believe the first thing we do is more of the same of what we have done: Provide a safe place for our kids to come to after school, encourage them to choose other life paths than gangs, drugs and crime, encourage the creation and success of other tutoring and mentoring programs throughout the city, and in general, continuing to spread the gospel of tutoring and mentoring.

However, we do acknowledge that in light of an especially violent month, with our kids on edge, there is even more that can be done. Two positive things that are being done are the creation of an essay that the kids can write on their solutions to stopping the violence. There will be an essay contest with a prize for the student with the best essay.

We are also starting a music club, where kids can especially hone their creativity in rapping and producing rap songs with positive messages. In fact, the first project that the kids will work on is creating songs about combatting the violence that is going on right now.

Of course much more can be done as well and we're continuing to search for new ways for the kids to be able to express their fear and anger about recent events in a creative, positive way and not in a violent, negative way. In the end, hopefully the kids will realize that it's much better to channel their energies in creating art and dialogue, rather than destroying lives.

Finally, I thought this editorial by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times was especially interesting on issues of race and gender that we grapple with every day.

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