…life from my perspective
Throwing slabs of ribs on the grill, popping firecrackers and drinking drank are as American as living in the burbs with two kids and a dog, eating warm apple pie topped with ice cream and driving a Chevy. And while I was geeked to see my people, chilling on lawn chairs shooting the shit, the most memorable moment of my 4th of July weekend was the conversation I shared with my older cousin. We started talking about the violence on these city streets and how the general public really has NO CLUE to the amount of gun violence that occurs across the city on any given night, primarily because the news is not reporting it. My cousin was JUST like some of the young men today who walk the city blocks, robbing, gang-banging and selling drugs. In his heyday he was a Stone, a member of the Black P Stone Nation (BPSN), so he’s got “street cred” and an understanding of the inner workings of gang culture which makes his current work as an outreach coordinator with Ceasefire very effective. As an outreach coordinator for Ceasefire, an initiative of the Chicago Project whose mission is to reduce violence in the inner city and develop interventions that are part of the city/community anti-violence plan, my cousin plays a vital role in negotiating peace talks between the gangs to quiet the violence. I first learned of his work with Ceasefire when I saw him volunteering in Roseland last Thanksgiving. We were both feeding the homeless on behalf of our respective organizations when I saw him and was like “cuzzo! what you doing here?” He replied, “come on cuz! I run Roseland. You in MY hood. What YOU doing here.” And from then on I’ve been learning about all the amazing, wonderful things he’s been doing not only in Roseland but around this beautiful, politically-connected, violent-ridden city.
At our family BBQ, my cuzzo was hipping me to the projects Ceasefire is involved with and his role in the organization. He shared his experiences and I could see in his face, in his eyes, the reasons why he loves his job. The way my cousin talked about the young men he mentors, I could tell he sees bits and pieces of himself in them. He used to be them. He understands the value of having a male presence and the detriment to the lives of many by not having one. And while he’s not “college educated”, he has an intelligence, an insight, a street savvy, an understanding of people, young men in particular, that can’t be taught. During the day he visits schools, walking the halls and speaking to our children. Not just to talk at them, or badger them, or preach to them but to share his experiences and listen to them; to try and hear their voice. At night, he visits the corners of the “hood” to speak with those who “run blocks” to try and get them to see a better way. If they can see it maybe they can be it. He doesn’t justify their wrongdoing, nor does he make excuses for their trouble. He understands their issues having lived them, so he’s in a position to offer up viable solutions. My cuzzo said the schools are not equipped to handle many of our youth because they’ve put teachers and administrators in place who don’t know how to connect with them. He acknowledged that teaching is not just about knowing your subject matter and dispensing information. We must develop relationships with our children that are nurtured with a love and care to see them be and do well. Without that, it’s as if we’re not even there.
I’m not going to lie. I refuse to sit here and pretend as if I know the answer. I used to teach and the problems I witnessed extended far beyond many of my student’s inability to graph the sine function or solve a linear equation. Those students were dealing with problems that I’ve never dealt with in my adult life and the average adult probably never will. Everybody thinks they know the best way to educate our children. Maybe there isn’t a “best way”. Maybe our children are in desperate need of a father’s presence and guidance and a mother’s love. Maybe ALL of the things that we do as adults serve as examples for our children. Maybe understanding that EVERY moment IS a teaching moment is how you connect with our youth. I tip my hat off to the parents, mentors, and educators of our children. I know the responsibility lies on society’s shoulders to take care of its children but the greatest impact happens at home. I’m very proud of my big cuzzo. He’s a loving Dad and a productive member of his community. He cares enough to right his wrongs and is proactive about creating a better tomorrow for his son and future generations. To all the men in the world like my “big cuzzo” – I SALUTE YOU! Until tomorrow youngn’s…..