If you were to accumulate the causes of death in America by using my Facebook news feed, you would find two primary origins: police brutality and gun violence. For the entire summer my Facebook news feed has been plagued with posts about lost family members, friends, or black bodies in general. Most of these lives lost were done so tragically. There have been days where ten consecutive posts were about death. There have been weeks where every day brought a new face gone too soon to my attention. I’ve shed tears for those close to me and for those I’ve never met, yet can sympathize with. From Chicago to Charleston to the world abroad and everything in between, death has taken its toll on an abundance of people. For me personally, I’ve never been so directly exposed to it before this summer.
Violence has become too internalized in our society and it’s become too easy to fall to violence when a conflict becomes challenging to resolve. It’s also easy to feel helpless and that nothing will ever be done to reduce such tragedies. I know I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know is that we cannot continue to talk about violence as if it occurs out of thin air. It’s simple math: if you add drugs and weapons into a community and take away trauma centers, after school programs, general funding, schools, and housing, you’re going to end up with chaos. While guns are clearly detrimental, it is unreasonable to expect our youth to put their guns down while not actively attempting to combat the other prominent issues. (Note: The aforementioned equation can consist of countless other variables and still lead to a similar result). Growing up in church, I constantly heard the old adage “If you continue to do the same things, you’ll get the same results”. During Do the Write Thing’s National Recognition Week, I spent an entire week listening to kids from around the country talk to their congressmen and senators about how violence plagues their communities. The kids have spoken. Now it’s our responsibility to develop a world that they can feel safe in. Or else, we take the risk of bringing our babies and young ones into a world full of the tragedy that we are constantly suffering. This isn’t to say that there isn’t light and beauty in the world that we live in, because there is. My view is simply that the darkness can be drastically reduced.
It would be easy for the Kuwait-America Foundation to say a lot of things that it doesn’t mean. It’s a simple task to ensure that the Chairman always mentioned the students as ambassadors and for the MC of important galas to label them the “most important people here” and “the reason we do this”. We could sponsor a program called the National Campaign to Stop Violence and gain so much attention from our noble act that we get hip-hop legend Common to be the keynote speaker at our gala. The Kuwait-America Foundation could hide behind the glitz and glamour, but we don’t. My experience working with the winners and Student Ambassadors of the Do the Write Thing contest cemented my confidence in that even more firmly. I realized that the kids are genuinely the driving force behind everything we do and that their recognition week and our campaign would be nothing without them. One can get caught in all of the busy work it takes to make sure everything goes perfectly. Yet when you finally see the restless and excited faces of teachers, coordinators, chairs, and students, your spirit begins to wake up. Your spirit is even more awakened when an esteemed chairman labels the kids as the “voices for our cause” and it turns out to be true. For about two hours I led the ambassadors from Chicago and their families around to meet staff members of their Congressmen and Senator Dick Durbin. I hardly said a word as both of the students spent most of the time telling vivid stories of their experiences with violence and relentlessly demanding solutions. It’s easy to think that these kids just write these essays as a school assignment or for the perk of going to Washington D.C. Standing in the background that day, however, made me realize that these kids go through far too much and that they genuinely do want to be the spearheads of the non-violence movement. I’m glad to be back. I’m glad to be able to experience this from a vastly different perspective. Most of all I’m glad to have my hope renewed during such a dark and difficult summer for many of my friends and family. We must continue to guide them and put in the work to make sure they have an abundance of opportunities to be successful. Because I needed those kids this weekend. I realized that we go hand in hand. We need them just as much as they need us.
Violence is an American Pastime. A tradition of sorts. A concept so internalized that people either make excuses for its usage or fuss about it for a minimal amount of time and move on. So when I was in 8th grade at Mark Sheridan Academy in Chicago, Illinois, I wrote a piece of prose about how I wanted to escape everything. My city, the violence, the problems, the turmoil, etc. My teacher loved my piece, but her most potent comment about it was the one encouraging me to be involved in the solution instead of running away from the problem. I was already a writer, so I felt that my words were my best medium. So when that same teacher announced the Do the Write Thing contest, I knew I had been blessed with the opportunity to provide something valuable. I thought of and threw out ideas for weeks and on the night before it was due, I worked tirelessly from 11-2 am on my piece. I told my mother before the Chicago ceremony that I was going to win, yet despite my confidence, it is still one of my most humbling and special accomplishments. Throughout my trip to Washington DC, I told everyone (interns, teachers, students, staff members) about how seriously I took this and how I wanted to be a vessel for the solution of stopping violence. I admittedly lost focus as I went through the common phase of finding myself during high school. Nonetheless, two years after graduating, I find myself as an intern for the Kuwait America Foundation still looking for ways to save and better the lives of those in my precious city, cities around the country, and cities abroad.
I’ll be blogging throughout my month as an intern for the Kuwait America Foundation. Feel free to leave comments and share your thoughts on the issue!