Today, I asked my 6th graders to write about Chicago: their likes, their dislikes, their overall experience living here. Usually, getting 12-year-olds to focus on a writing sprint is like herding cats. But today, the kids hat a lot to say. They passionately started writing, some of them even continuing to write after the three-minute sprint was up.

Picture I took of the Merch Mart el stop one day when
I was photographing Chicago.
I didn't see all of the kids' writing, since writing sprints are not collected or graded. They're a no-pressure way to get your ideas flowing. But some of the kids were so proud of what they wrote, they wanted to turn them in to me. The pieces of writing I saw were so emotional, so personal, and so honest that they inspired me to write my own post about Chicago today. (This morning at 6:30 am, before I left to teach, I was working on a different post. So I'll post that one at a later date.)

It's no secret that I'm in love with my city. My family has lived in Chicago since my great-grandparents immigrated here from Poland three generations ago. Since then, we've lived all over the city and surrounding area--starting on the southwest side, and expanding to Uptown, Lakeview, Naperville, Evanston, and Glenview.

When I had to move out of Chicago at eight years old--and live on the East Coast until high school graduation--I immediately started planning how I'd get back to Chicago ASAP. Basically, I just studied and worked my butt off all throughout middle and high school so that I could get into Northwestern--the only school I wanted to go to. 

And now that I've been back for six years, I'm NEVER moving out of Chicago again. Ever. I am 100% hopelessly, devotedly, and even idealistically in love with this city.

But everyone's experience in Chicago is wildly different. 

To be clear: I love EVERY part of Chicago. Every neighborhood, every adjacent suburb. That doesn't mean I love every THING about Chicago, though.

What I want to talk about is what Chicago looks like to KIDS, particularly the kids I've taught.

I teach at a lot of different schools, and work with lots of different groups of students. I'm sure different groups of students will feel differently about this city. For example, I sometimes teach at an affluent private school on the northeast side. The kids there all seem content in Chicago.

My family has always loved Chicago--and maybe that's a result of having lived in so many different parts of the city, that we got to see such a variety of what it has to offer. A lot of us have been very fortunate in that sense.

But my students today hated Chicago. None of them are happy living here.

They wrote about the violence they see every day. They wrote about seeing people they know--friends, relatives, neighbors--dying. They wrote about how they wish the gun violence would stop.

They're 100% right. The violence needs to stop.

Of course, every city has crime. No city is perfect. But with all the beautiful, amazing things happening in Chicago, it really upsets me that violence is the first thing that comes to mind for kids. It shouldn't be this way. Kids deserve so much better.

I've been fortunate enough to live in so many different parts of this city, that for me, I can see Chicago as a wonderful and diverse place. As in, I always knew that violence was a major issue. It's sometimes an issue in my neighborhood, Uptown. (Sometimes, though. Which is, in every way, preferable to always.)

My neighborhood, Uptown.
But for kids who have had to live in one neighborhood of one city their whole lives, and haven't grown up to see what else is out there, Chicago CAN look like a violent, horrible place to live.

But Chicago's also home to some of the friendliest people I know. I'd say friendly isn't just a personality type in Chicago; it's a way to describe the city as a whole. This city has so much going for it, and so much potential. We could be damn near perfect if we stopped the violence.

The neighborhoods on the south side where generations of my family grew up were not wealthy. My neighborhood, Uptown, is also not wealthy. We have some of the largest homeless population in the city. Many of my friends here work at local shelters and soup kitchens to help. In a lot of ways, I can see Uptown improving. But what about other parts of the city? What about parts that aren't improving, that have way more violence than we do here?

Basically, what I'm saying is, I don't have the answers. But I don't want to see kids growing up to hate a city that can be so great in some ways. I want to help stop the violence. So I'm also kind of asking you: what are some ways we can stop violence in Chicago? What are some good organizations to get involved in? Where are some places I should be looking to help?

And yes, it seems obvious. I was always aware of the violence in this city, and that it needs to stop. But seeing it personally affect so many of my students is what's motivating me to take action now.

Because Chicago has so much character. It has this gorgeous, rich history of deep-dish pizza and Goose Island beer and die-hard Cubs fans and World's Fairs.

But it also has a history of violence that, for a lot of us, is still happening. And it needs to stop.

So, if you have any ideas, or know of any good organizations, for ways to help decrease the violence in Chicago, PLEASE leave a comment!

Thank you!



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