Nearly twenty-four years ago, on Chicago's South Side, a promising young athlete, a basketball phenom, was gunned down, in broad daylight, on a cold wintry street near his high school. Ben Wilson was seventeen. I was fifteen. I didn't know Benji, as he was affectionately called, but his story touched the entire city, and the senseless killing rocked me to the core. I couldn't understand, couldn't process it, but, I shared the grief felt by many others my age who knew and loved him. I remember it so well. I remember they took him to St. Bernard Hospital, and I remember when the news came over the radio that he did not make it. The DJ played T.ramaine Hawkins "Goin Up Yonder" and I was in the back seat of my Daddy's Volvo, and I cried quietly, because I didn't know if it was okay to do so. If I remember correctly, the radio station broadcast live from Simeon's gymnasium, where students gathered to mourn and comfort one another. I remember the sadness, the wailing, the words of comfort from adults. It was awful and it was frightening.
Years before that, when I was just a little girl, one of my cousin's was murdered, by gunfire, on the South Side, and I believe he was a mere fifteen at that time. I remember my family gathering in the emergency room of the hospital where my mother worked, and again, if I recall correctly, she was part of the team working to save his life. But, he didn't make it. His bullet riddled body couldn't maintain the blood that they were frantically pumping into him.
There are a few other stories I can tell, stories of violence in my beloved city, the city we natives lovingly refer to as "The Crib." However, the Jennifer Hudson Family tragedy is most prescient in my mind right now. When my girl MoMo first mentioned it to me, I jumped online to search the story. As the details rolled in, all I wondered was "why", then I prayed and asked God to allow myself and the Hudson family to lean on Him and not our own understanding. I began hearing T.ramaine Hawkins song again, and somehow, it is tied, in my psyche, to senseless tragedy at "The Crib." I awoke yesterday to the news that a body, that of a young black boy, had been found, in the SUV the authorities were looking for, and mu heart sunk. By end of day it, it was all clear.
LA is so very different. I do not know the hood here, the way I do at home. I'm familiar with The Jungles, I handle business on Crenshaw, I lived in Compton for some time my first year here, but its different. As I've been watching WGN and all other news reports covering the story, I see faces that feel so familiar, hear a dialect that is so country. :)
There is an element to the hood in Chicago that is so distinct, so sad, yet loving and rich with "down home." There is desperation, optimism and complacency that are so intertwined, so blurry, that one wonders if this cycle can ever be broken. Just when there seems to be a glimmer of hope, that someone "from here" can make it, shht like this takes place. There are those who want to leave and those who want to stay, and the reasons are various, but ties always remain, because as Jennifer said, "it keeps me grounded" and you can't forget where you came from.
When I get home to Chicago, the first place I want to go is Harold's on 87th Street. I want to drive around and see the city that raised me, I want to hit Stoney Island, King Drive and Cottage Grove; Hyde park and Downtown. I want to go Steppin'. I grew up in London Towne, at the tip of the "Wild Hundreds" and if I don't make it to the old neighborhood to visit, there are consequences to pay from those who played instrumental roles in making me into the woman I am today. When I go home, I feel recharged; the city is no punk. It is arguably the most segregated city in the country, but there is beauty in that, because you can drive or ride "the El" from one area to the next and experience different cultures and people. I did this for four years during High School. The city's history is legendary, roaring with jazz, blues and classical music. The politics are unrivaled, and the food...incredible. I grew up listening to House music. I attended the strongly rooted Trinity United Church of Christ. I have kept in touch with virtually all of my friends, starting from kindergarten.
I must admit though, that things are changing. Gentrification has reared its ugly head and the dynamics and landscapes are forever altered. On the South and West Sides, crime has increased and the living ain't necessarily easy. I hear it when I talk to my friends who are cops, and my friends who are funeral directors. The heartbeat is different, the soul has been sucked out some.
P.alin and McC.ain should visit this "real America", where school-aged children are gunned down on city buses, to and from school. They should familiarize themselves with the "real America" where little seven year old boys die at the hands of guns, along with their grandmothers and uncles. You know, those wonderful firearms that P.alin uses to hunt Moose? They aren't so wonderful in the hood. However, O.bama knows these streets, so don't underestimate his gumption, his toughness. He is sensitive to this plight, and not necessarily because he is Black. Don't start that shht with me. He knows it, because he cares to know and understand.
J.ennifer H.udson's life is heading into a new chapter now, where she must cope with the inexplicable deaths of her loved ones, and while it is both sad and troublesome, the most heartbreaking thing is that these types of crimes are committed daily in hoods all across our country, but its so prevalent that the media doesn't bother to report it on national news. Just like the Hudson's neighbors in Englewood didn't bother to report gunfire, because "we hear it all the time."
Get your ass out and vote next Tuesday. No excuses.