About 15 years ago when my kids were attending Kilmer Elementary in Rogers Park, a teenager was shot and killed less than 50 yards from the school, which is across the street from Sullivan High School.
It was a traumatic event for the community and it triggered an all-out safety effort among parents and administrators at the two schools. I won't ever forget the months that followed when other parents and I stood on sidewalks and corners after school, wearing orange Parent Patrol armbands. I worked a particularly vulnerable corner with a mother who knew how to talk to teenagers, and I learned from her how to ask groups of older teenagers – in a voice that was both respectful and firm – to move on until after the little children had made it home from school.
The fear and determination I felt in those years has come back to me often in recent months as I read the ongoing reports of killings and beatings near schools across the city. Violence that takes our youth away from us is debilitating at multiple levels: on the blocks where it happens, within the affected families and school communities, and for the city as a whole. How can we consider Chicago a strong city, after all, if children are killed on the streets and we can't stop it?
The fact is, we have many of the tools needed to prevent or reduce violence, and many examples of effective partnerships among community groups, youth programs, the police and violence-prevention groups. Maureen Kelleher just wrote an excellent report on youth-led efforts in Little Village, in which she captured powerful lessons from youth who have been affected by violence.
So I asked Maureen: "Shouldn't there be comprehensive efforts at the neighborhood level that create a level of protection for kids?" She answered with a question: "What would that program look like?"
That's the life-or-death question that a new University of Chicago study will try to get at, but it seems to me that an academic study isn't where the answers are going to be found. They'll be found on the street by committed youth, organizers, police, school administrators and others who work together to create a resilient web of safety.
The question remains: What would that program look like?