Combating Violence in our Neighborhoods

Chicago is the World blogger and veteran journalist Stephen Franklin engages with Fenger High School principal Elizabeth Dozier at a gathering Jan. 29. Through a series of efforts, including restorative justice, Fenger has transformed itself.

“From Pageantry to Tragedy,” the Chicago Sun-Times cover headline screamed out this morning. As reported all over today, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot in the back while waiting after school for the pouring rain to stop in a neighborhood park less than a mile from President Barack Obama’s home; only a week after she attended the president’s inaugural with group of fellow King College Prep students.

Parents fear those after school hours before they get home from work, when their kids may have nothing to do except become the unintended target of a stray gangbanger’s bullet. Hadiya was herself a majorette for her school’s celebrated dance team and as a volleyball player “was engaged in the activities that are designed to keep young people safe and out of harm’s way,” reflected columnist Mary Mitchell.

But those extra-curriculars didn’t keep Hadiya safe yesterday, one of seven shootings citywide during a record-setting balmy spring day in late-January. As we try and cope with increased gun violence in our neighborhoods, city, state and nation, we also seek answers to prevent another family from planning an early wake and funeral.

Beyond shotgun headlines of each murder victim the Community Media Workshop is trying to encourage journalists to go deeper: how did so many weapons get onto our streets? What are the most effective intervention strategies to reduce the levels of violence? Where can I send my son and daughter to safely engage in productive, fun activities after school?

To try and answer that last question, our We Are Not Alone/No Estamos Solos project convened a second forum between youth organizations and reporters covering crime and public safety issues. Legacy media, public radio, ethnic editors and reporters –some three dozen in all–engaged in “speed dating” conversations with some 43 representatives of youth groups providing those after school and weekend opportunities to engage.

We were encouraged by the conversational buzz in the Columbia College meeting room in which we gathered. We hope the new connections between news sources and journalists will lead to deeper reporting on our culture’s ongoing addiction to guns. And we pray with Hadiya’s mom and family that not one more child will fail to find safe haven.

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