The International Olympic Committee decided to hold their 2016 Games in Rio instead of Chicago. Even a personal appeal by President Obama could not persuade them otherwise.
And maybe it is only fair. As attractive as Chicago may be as a venue, South America has never hosted the Olympic Games. As Chris McGowan writes: “Brazil is one of the world’s top ten economies– after having emerged relatively unscathed from the global economic crisis.” It is a giant of culture, food, partying, agriculture, music, and biofuel! It is one of the world’s leading exporters of ethanol (half its cars run on pure alcohol!) Already self-sufficient in petroleum, Brazil recently discovered massive off-shore oil reserves.
The IOC was evidently not disuaded by the poverty, crime, pollution, corruption and violence present in Rio. After all, it is not like those conditions don’t exist in Chicago.
In fact this week, while the president was flying to Copenhagen to make a personal appeal for his home city, another 16-year old honor student became a victim of school violence. Last year 34 Chicago school children were killed and 290 were shot. Several have already been killed this year… and its only October.
Gun violence continues to be one of the leading causes of preventable deaths of young people in our country. The Children’s Defense Fund reports that:
• In 2005, 3,006 children and teens were killed by firearms, the equivalent of 120 public school classrooms of 25 students each.
• Between 1979 and 2005, more than 104,000 children and teens were killed by firearms in the United States. This is the equivalent of 4,177 classrooms of 25 students each.
• California lead the nation with 475 gun related deaths of teens in 2005
CDF also reminds us that
• Every second in America, a public school student is suspended
• Every 7 minutes a child is arrested for a violent crime.
• Every 3 hours a child or teen is killed by a firearm.
And that is just for starters.
And as sobering as that data may be, Derrion Albert was not the victim of random gun violence in Chicago! He was hit over the head with a splintered railroad tie in the middle of a street melee, and then he was punched and kicked unconscious. He was not a participant. He was merely walking home from school. While he lay in the street dying, another teen captured the entire scene on his cell phone so that it could later be posted on You Tube.
This is Bobby Kennedy’s “Mindless menace of violence”.
Who are their parents? Where are their counselors and teachers? Where is the clergy? Where is the compassion and sense of justice among so many kids that could participate in this melee and watch another student die?
Where is the President?
It is not as if the educators of the Chicago Public Schools don’t know what is happening. Education Week reported that:
“Chicago is launching a $30 million plan to try to end the waves of annual shooting deaths of student-age children. The nation’s third largest school district says it’ll target 1,200 public high school students seen as most at risk to become gunshot victims. Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman says the money will go toward connecting the at-risk kids with full-time mentors and finding them part-time jobs. It’ll also help pay to provide safe passage for students forced to go through areas with a high concentration of gangs.”
This is not the first time large expenditures have gone into the public schools to try to keep our children safer. Back in the early 1990’s, Walter H. Annenberg established the Annenberg Foundation with $1.2 billion in assets, explained that he made his historic commitment to school reform because he was concerned about rising violence among young people: “We must ask ourselves whether improving education will halt the violence.”
Those Foundation grants went to a number of major American cities with large urban school districts, including Chicago where the “Chicago Public Education Fund” was developed. This not only provided funding to work on grass roots efforts to stem the horrific levels of violence in our urban schools, it provided a forum for civic leaders to get involved in schools. This all took place in 1992– or just about the time that Derrion Albert was born. And the chair of the Chicago Public Education Fund… was Barack Obama.
And now all has come full circle as the President returns to America with more than enough challenges on his plate. The good news about not getting the Olympic Games in Chicago? The President’s many detractors will not have fresh ammunition to pummel him with every time something goes wrong with the planning or the unemployment numbers stubbornly decline in the heartland. Perhaps even better news, the President might lend the full power of his office to the kids in his old neighborhood on the South Side. There are two Chicagos. One mourns the failure of their city’s Olympic bid and the billions of dollars that would have been injected into the local economy. The other mourns the death of still another child who just wanted to go home.
Next week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder will visit Chicago to lend their official support for efforts to protect our children. It will be an uphill battle that will take more than photo-ops and fly-bys. It will also require a lot more than Walter Annenberg’s millions. It will require the transformation of an entire community: the schools, the public housing, jobs, career counseling, parent engagement, social services, medical care. Maybe it will require the transformation of the nation at a time when there seems to be so little patience for real change.
In fact, teen violence and student deaths are taking place at such staggering and unacceptable levels in our cities, it will take an Olympian effort on the part of our President who knows first hand how such violence threatens to rob America of its very soul.