“None of this sh#% should be normal,” she exclaimed as we sat together in my car on a cold Chicago night in front of the University of Chicago Emergency Room waiting to hear news about her brother after a bullet had entered his head. “Babies in the car, for God’s sake; babies were in the car! It’s December and it’s, like, still happening every day. We get freaked out if this happens on the north side but with us, we expecting this to happen every damn day!” she continued, while wiping the tears streaming down her face.
I don’t typically like to talk or write to you about violence on Chicago’s South Side. I don’t, in any way, want to feed a narrative that reduces all the amazing organizing, activism, development, and the dynamic individuals that live and work in our communities to the thirty second soundbite most only hear about on the evening news. Yet, after an intense two weeks leading to the close of 2021, I, too, had to confront how much of this I have normalized over the last number of years.
Two days before a long-standing colleague, friend and a dear brother who has devoted his entire adult life to violence prevention work called me at midnight to inform me that he had just been shot in the head close to where IMAN is focusing its work in Englewood, another incident had transpired right on our main campus in Chicago Lawn before the end of the work day on 63rd and California. A man running from an altercation was shot and died right in front of the corner store next to IMAN’s main set of buildings. A few moments later I walked past the red tape with several IMAN staff members, made sure nobody else was hurt, and we all just went back to closing out the day’s work.
As I sat in that car in front of the emergency room absorbing the rage and pain of this woman grappling with the fate of her brother, I also had to quietly renew my conviction to fight in every way possible against all the subtle and explicit ways that systems, structures and our approach to these issues have normalized this trauma. At IMAN we have devoted the last year or so to deepening and strengthening our staff, structure, programs, organizing campaigns and facilities. As we approach our 25th Anniversary Year, we intend to make sure that our mission of pursuing health, wellness and healing is felt in the most holistic and transformative way in Chicago, Atlanta and beyond for decades to come.
Our faith assures us that miracles do happen. That night in front of the ER, our colleague miraculously not only survived but walked out on his own a few hours later with nothing other than a prescription for some over the counter painkillers, which he said he would rather not take. The bullet had entered and exited the back of his skull without touching a nerve or shattering any bone. We all thanked God for that miracle and, true to form, this brother is already back in the community trying to do everything he can to stop others from retaliating and settling the issue between two groups that led to the shooting. Yet struggling against the normalization of this violence will require relying on more than just miracles.
Normal isn’t normal in our communities, it’s the by-product of decades of criminal disinvestment, neglect and abandonment, and by this point most of us should know that. Yet beyond knowing, it’s about the everyday doing. What IMAN remains more committed to than ever is to organize alongside our partners to make sure we do everything possible to build thriving neighborhoods and communities that offer every person and their families the right to holistically succeed.
I remain beyond hopeful for our future. I know that in great part, that future is possible due to all the extraordinary support, prayers and good energy you continue to send our way and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.