“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” Psalm 23 declares. If he who slayed Goliath were here today, I’d say, “King David, my family and I live in that valley of the shadow of death. We call it Chicago.”
On a recent interfaith trip to the Holy Land, my phone never stopped ringing, and I had to cut my visit in half to return home for funerals. One was that of a best friend who had a stroke. But the others were the son of an employee, shot and killed by a Chicago police officer, and the grandson of a church member, murdered.
Before leaving Israel, I realized something that amazed me: I felt far safer there than in my own city. In a region known for war and terror, I didn’t fear for my life once.
En route home, I had a nine-hour layover in Warsaw. My good friends Rabbi Yehiel Poupko, Michael Traison and Susan Sacks arranged a tour so I wouldn’t be stuck in an airport all day. It turned out to be a delay focused on death.
I toured the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which, of course, included exhibits about Jews killed in Poland. The emotions I felt were overwhelming. After my trip, I understood the words “Never again” even more.
On all four of my four trips to the Holy Land, I have seen young Israeli soldiers in training, visiting places like Yad Vashem and other memorials where they would constantly be reminded of the need for their sacrifice and service to their country and communities.
The sad thing is that, for African-Americans, not much of our past nor our pain has been preserved for the younger generation to learn from. Maybe it’s time to build memorials to the slain Chicagoans on every floor in City Hall. Or at one of the sites proposed for Amazon’s second headquarters.
It’s easy to ignore what you don’t see. But those of us who live in violence can’t ignore it.
In Israel and Poland, I saw determination to rise up against violence. Here, I see urban communities forced to accept its normalization.
The physical toll of Chicago’s violence on my community is all too obvious. Not so apparent, though, are the hidden scars. A survey by my church’s community outreach arm found 35 percent of Bronzeville students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 showed signs of clinical depression — more than a third of the 1,600 children surveyed.
Where are the resources for mental health? Not a grant or two but significant investment? Where are the centers that focus on emotional and psychological trauma?
With the help of the Israeli organization NATAL, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, University of Chicago Medicine, United Way and Cigna, I’ve been working on an answer. Based on a trauma counseling model I observed on the first of my trip to Israel in 2012, The Urban Resilience Network — TURN, for short — is my labor of love for this violence-wracked city. The TURN Center’s purpose is to help stop people from hurting others, to use faith and community leaders to provide trauma counseling to families and communities of victims and perpetrators of violence.
We have to ask: Why is it OK for our great city to be shadowed by death?
Aug. 9 is your chance to do something to help. That’s when Bright Star Community Outreach hosts its annual fund-raising gala for our TURN Center. Little support thus far has come from city, state or federal resources. So we’re hoping to build on this grassroots effort, which is part of the larger Greater Bronzeville Community Action Plan uniting more than 50 neighborhood partners.
We can build resilience to trauma and violence that lifts us from the hopelessness of “here we go again” to the resolve of “never again.”
Christopher Harris Sr. is senior pastor of Bright Star Church.