clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

John Fountain: I play my drum until we hear

Three-year-old Devon Quinn was shot June 19 while sitting in a car with his father. | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

I play my drum for them, pa rum pa pum pum

My finest gift I bring, pa rum pa pum pum

Two wounded little kings, pa rum pa pum pum

Searching for new words to sing, pa rum pa pun pun . . .


Devon Quinn, 3 — wounded while sitting in his car seat inside the family’s van on Father’s Day — now lies in a hospital bed, paralyzed. Kavan Collins, 4 — wounded while walking beside his mother — is recovering from being shot in the face.

Their sin? To live on the other side of the tracks — in Chi-Raq. Here, where complacency, social and political hand-wringing and neglect have helped create this turbulent undertow of violence that continues to swallow the innocent and young.

So I play my drum for them. Tap out the incessant call for a brighter day, a better way. I play.

In spite of those who have grown weary of hearing it, I beat my drum, in the spirit of the ancient African griot, speaking on this summer’s winds. I beat this drum amid those who say its rhythms have grown redundant, perhaps waxed repugnant, tapping out an all too familiar and predictable beat of homicide and loss — of untold human costs.

“Change it up,” they say. “Lighten up.” “Nobody’s listening.”

“The people who need to hear you, unfortunately, don’t read you,” they say. . . . Surely there must be other beats, rhythms to play.

I say: With my people — our children — being slaughtered in the streets by our children, how can I, as a writer, write about anything else? As a black journalist in this my hometown, in neighborhoods where I have lived, laughed and loved, and where slain sons and daughters look disconcertingly like my own?

I say: If I were Rwandan, how could I have failed to wail ceaselessly upon my drum until the war against that genocide was won? Or if I were Jewish or Palestinian or Cherokee and had bore witness to my people’s sufferings, how could I have been silent about our trail of tears?

Would not I have ceaselessly — unrepentantly and unapologetically — pounded, even when I wearied, until my last breath?

Today there is no greater story. No greater human-rights atrocity I see than denying innocent children — people — the right to live. No more imminent state of emergency than that which exists on the South and West Sides, where a collective of mass shootings is routinely a weekend occurrence.

And yet, here, murder has become blasé. The death of the innocent status quo. Our response to the latest 10 o’clock news Pavlovian: We shake our heads; say how “sad” it is; then change the channel, as amnesia warms us like an electric blanket.

So the Ferris wheel turns and the Gold Coast glows, even as the skyline shimmers in this tale of two cities.

And yet, black and brown lives are no less precious. Our blood no less red, even if Black Lives Matter is decidedly mum when our killers are black and brown. And why?

Devon can’t breathe.

So I play my drum for him. And for Kavan.

What is the worth of two little boys’ lives? What about the 600 words I get to write in my column each week? How about 600 times 26 — the number of Sundays remaining this year?

If it changes one heart, saves one life, my drum will beat for them. . . .

I was a poor boy too, pa rum pa pum pum

My finest gift I bring, pa rum pa pum pum

To this great tragedy, pa rum pa pum pum

Me and my drum


Follow the Editorial Board on Twitter: Follow @csteditorials

Tweets by @CSTeditorials