As a native of Chicago, my prayers and heart go out to Jennifer Hudson and her family. However, my sympathy and concerns are not reserved for the Hudson family alone. They stretch long and wide, covering the hundreds of victims and victims’ families whose murders go unsolved and remain out of the national spotlight.
Amidst the details of America’s DreamGirl Jennifer Hudson’s tragedy, will the heinous incident turn a national eye upon a pandemic quite often ignored in urban centers across America?
When shots rang out in the vicinity of the 7000 S. block of Yale Ave, early Friday morning, residents nearby thought nothing of it; or if they did, chose to ignore them.
Such a response surprises few who live in or are aware of the temperament of Chicago’s Englewood community. For many residents, violence in Englewood is to be expected. This sense of normalcy is one reason Hudson tried to persuade her mother to move. Her mother refused, wanting to remain close to family, friends and sense of being.
The Englewood community, once a thriving residential and business district only minutes from the Chicago Loop, today can provide a bastion of fodder for Hollywood financed gangster movies. Boarded and abandoned buildings line the avenues from 7000 to 5500 South, between the Dan Ryan Expressway and Western Avenue.
Drug transactions are as common, if not more, as grocery shopping. Additionally, the widespread collapsing of public schools and the demolition of public housing facilities have left redistributed gangs fighting for new and old territory.
Coined, “America’s Midwest Bagdad,” Englewood is a constant site of warfare. At one time it was racial aggression and systematic redlining inflicted upon African Americans who attempted to move into the predominately Irish Catholic community during the height of the Great Migration and then after World War II. Today, it is the site of black genetic annihilation couched within the phenomenon of the prison industrial complex, a breeding ground for behavior that leads to incarceration.
The city’s reported homicide statistics lead the nation and are on an incline since 2007; between January and the end of September 2008 there were 392 reported murders, a 14.6% increase since 2007 with District 7 in Englewood having one of the city’s highest rates with 32 homicides.
Unfortunately, with vibrant anti-snitching campaigns, levels of pathological anxiety, fear, helplessness and complacency are ever steady in communities like Englewood. And there are countless like communities across Chicago’s South and West sides and in major urban centers nationwide.
Prince Akbar, a former Englewood resident, recants his experience after a shoot-out in his blog Warzone: “I witnessed the next day the neighborhood kept partying and kids kept playing as if nothing happen[ed].”
One may be quick to judge and criticize locals, but it is more difficult to offer widespread sustainable solutions to residents when approximately 45% live below the poverty line. Most feel disenfranchised as citizens and are subject to police terrorism. And disparaging educational opportunities are the norm in a city where racism left predominately black urban center’s economically abandoned.
But all is not lost. Organizations like the National Block Club University tirelessly work to counter and reclaim the spirit and life of this community and 166 more like it nationwide.
“Instability is one of our biggest challenges,” says founder Syron Smith, who organizes block by block to connect people in zip codes locally, nationally, and internationally. “You have people whose lives are unstable… [With] work, recreation and training, you mix all three that’s a balanced life.”
Of course, Hudson would give anything to have her family back. We pray that her burdens may be eased. But as we do so, let us not turn blind eyes to America’s debilitating illness: nationwide pandemic violence. There’s an Englewood, and communities like it all across the nation.
Stephany “Stiletto” Rose is a poet, performer, community organizer and author of Stilettoed Roses Bleed (Interstices, Inc. 2004). She is an Assistant Professor of English at Claflin University.