Mothers wail. Grandmothers sit in silence. Fathers seethe with anger. Friends stand by the door, not fully accepting the reality of their loss. Girlfriends’ bodies shake uncontrollably while tightly gripping sides of caskets. Little cousins play in the aisles. Teachers try to hold onto the ones who might be next. Pastors offer God’s prayer. This happens every weekend in the Windy City. Families and friends pack churches in the South Side on days of worship not mentioned in the holy books. For black and Latino communities, funerals for dead children have become weekly occasions. While white kids are celebrating bar mitzvahs and confirmations, black and Latino kids are laying their best friends to rest. With no rest since the last funeral I attended, I come to Chicago to partake in Ideas Week, joining a conversation on how we silence the bullets.
My life’s work has led to me countless churches across the country, bearing witness to hundreds of “homecomings” for children whose dreams are ended before they can even close their eyes. I have sat in living rooms of families who barely understood English, much less understood that heir child was never coming home again. I have talked hours on the phone with mothers after they lost their child, haunted by nightly nightmares and dealt a life-long case of insomnia. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. That is not what they signed up for. This was not part of the agreement. This is not the America the Beautiful we sing of. This is not part of the pursuit of happiness.
14-year-old Antonio Davis, shot dead. 13-year-old Tyquan Tyler, shot dead. 6-year-old Aliyah Shell, shot dead. 7-year-old Heaven Sutton, shot dead. They have names. They have people who love them. They do not die in vain. We will remember, not just the four mentioned who were killed in the past 9 months, but we remember all of them. This is not a black problem, Latino problem, Asian problem or a white problem. This is America’s problem. This is the city of Chicago’s problem. Regardless of whether or not the overall crime rate in the city is down, when any child dies, a piece of us dies with them.
We too, play a part in solving this problem. We all do. As a white young man from New York, I feel as responsible to the young people of Chicago as I do to anyone else in this country. For their future is my future and their well-being determines my well-being. So, what if we all decided to try to put an end to these weekly funerals. What if the faces of the children unfroze from horror. What if the tears down mama’s face rolled back into her eyes. What if the bouquets of flowers were never taken from the ground. What if God didn’t get asked so many questions. What if the wood from the coffin met up again with the tree that it came from. What if the police didn’t have to go search for another child with a gun. What if the crime section didn’t have enough stories to print. What if the girlfriends let go of their grip. What if I came to Chicago and the bullets went silent. Not a whisper. What if you helped make that happen.
Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik