The biggest take away from this story for us, despite how depressing and hopeless the situation can sometimes leave you feeling, are the people like Joseph Walker, Derek Brown, Ron and Annette Holt, Reverend Robin Hood, Marcus Wright and Principals Sherryl Moore-Ollie and Mary Ann Pollet, who collectively are Chicago’s best hope for beating this problem. No one could blame Joe Walker, Derrion Albert’s grandfather, if he were to point fingers and demand accountability for his grandson’s death. But instead he has focused on what can be done to fix the problem, by starting the Pain to Power Foundation (www.paintopower.org), which is leading the way in creating safe passage routes for students to and from school. Ron and Annette Holt have become leading voices in the fight against youth violence, and despite an uphill battle against federal gun legislation, are turning their son’s death into action with Blair’s Bill (www.blairholtmemorialfoundation.org). Derek Brown, a former gang chief known on the streets as Shotgun, along with Reverend Robin Hood, have created a boxing program in Lawndale that according to Principal Ollie has nearly wiped out Penn Elementary’s incidents of violence in a single school year. Not to mention Derek’s work on the streets as a violence interrupter that has turned the Holy City of the Vicelords into a murder free zone over the past several months. And often lost in the national debate over school reform are the educators on the ground whose involvement with inner city youth can literally be the difference of life or death for their students. In the office of Principal Mary Ann Pollet at Montefiore Special School (www.montefiore.cps.k12.il.us), there is a memorial wall of more than a dozen of her former students lost on the streets to violence, a constant reminder of the stakes for the job at hand. For her, assistant Principal Marcus Wright, and Principal Ollie at Penn Elementary, it is not enough to simply provide their students with an education. Marcus Wright’s students have been written off by the schools, society and often their families, but he refers to them as “his heroes” and with unbelievable patience works to literally save their lives each and every day.
Hopefully our work in Chicago will at least draw some much deserved attention to the people who are the best equipped to solve this problem.