Healing the trauma caused by Chicago’s deadly violence

Eleven children were shot last weekend. Children and adults need help to heal from the toxic stress caused by living amid the threat of violence.

SHARE Healing the trauma caused by Chicago’s deadly violence
Three teens were among the victims of a shooting on South King Drive on Feb. 14, 2020. Eleven children were shot over the weekend of Feb. 14-16.

Three teens were among the victims of a shooting on South King Drive on Feb. 14, 2020. Eleven children were shot over the weekend of Feb. 14-16.

Nader Issa/Sun-Times

In East African culture, Masai warriors traditionally ask in greeting, “And how are the children?”Regretfully, Chicago cannot give the traditional Masai response, “All the children are well.”

Eleven children were among 26 people shot last weekend, the same time that Chicago was celebrating the NBA All-Star Game. These deadly outcomes of historical inequality require unprecedented investment to transform our children’s welfare.

As Cristina Pacione Zayas of the Erikson Institute points out, 60% of Chicago children ages 0-5 live in neighborhoods where more than three homicides occurred in 2018. This toxic stress gets “under the skin” and affects children’s and adult’s health and wellness in disastrous ways.

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My research with close to 100 black mothers living in Chicago neighborhoods with high levels of violence shows the toll. These mothers experienced constant anxiety about their children’s safety, resulting in headaches, stomachaches, back pain, hair loss, panic attacks, sleeplessness, loss of sexual desire, etc.

In a documentary I co-produced with Lisa Butler - “What’s Left Behind?” - one mother who lost an adult child to gun violence reported staying in bed for years due to depression. Another mom who had suffered the same fate said she lost the ability to taste food because sharing meals with her son was their special bonding time. Mothers coping with these tragedies described the importance of friends, family and faith to endure these crippling challenges.

There are sparks of hope on the horizon. MacArthur Foundation has 100 & Change, a competition for a single $100 million grant to solve a critical social challenge. Mayor Lori Lightfoot is investing $750 million in South and West side neighborhoods. Smaller organizations are marshaling resources to heal communities and prevent trauma.

We must coordinate these responses so we can give the traditional Masai response, “All the children are well.”

Dr. Ruby Mendenhall, assistant dean
Carle Illinois College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Common sense, not training

Professor Lionel Kimble suggests a lack of training for the assignment during Black History Month that caused the disturbance at Sutherland School. Though teacher training may help, I see the root cause for this being a lack of common sense on the part of the teachers.

Edward Fee, retired principal, Orland Park

CPS is failing at Lincoln Park

Since the removal of top administrators from Lincoln Park High School less than a month ago, CPS has placed temporary administrators in charge and added security staff.

On Feb. 5, two days after the two new administrators arrived, parents received a letter informing us that one of them had “decided to leave after determining she was not a good fit.” Less than 24 hours later, video surfaced of this administrator physically assaulting a student.

Two weeks later, on Feb. 20, parents received another email informing us that a staff member “temporarily assigned to the school” had been removed following an altercation with a student.

How can CPS attempt to solve the problems a school is facing by putting in place two temporary staff that, within a matter of days, physically assault our students, our children?Where is the screening and training?

As parents, we naturally worry about our children— these were once our babies.We worry when we send them out the door in the morning, when they get on an increasingly dangerous CTA and when they come home after school when it’s dark outside.Worrying is part of our job as parents.

But CPS has a job, too, and they’re failing: to hire employees who know to keep their hands off our children.We have taken this for granted, but now it is just another thing to worry about.

Erica Salem, Chicago

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