Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin addressed the ever-present gun violence in Austin and other predominantly African-American communities during a town hall meeting last weekend, calling on West Side parents to support each other in raising their children.
“There is a crisis with respect to African American, and there is a crisis with respect to parenting,” Boykin told about 20 people who attended the meeting.
“Last year, there were 752 people killed in the city by gun violence,” Boykin said. And the killings have continued this year.
“What’s most troubling to me is that 78 percent of the people who’ve been shot and killed are African American,” he said. “The problems that we see are really reflective of what’s going on in our homes of our people.”
The challenges facing African-American parents include lack of community support, the culture of corporal punishment and the stigma of seeking parenting assistance, said a panel of experts in early education and stress management.
The event drew mixed responses from West Side parents who attended.
Marjorie Fujara, a specialist in child abuse pediatrics, said parenting has become more stressful since they’ve “lost the village.”
“Parents today are forced to parent on their own without assistance from others,” said Fujara, adding it’s necessary to restore the tradition of helping each other and encourage young parents to take parenting courses.
She said the lack of community support makes it easier for young parents to resort to alcohol and drugs when feeling frustrated, which affects their children.
Austin resident Mary Hartsfield agreed, saying residents have become less willing to get involved with the gangs and drug dealers present in their neighborhood.
“Now, nobody would stop by or even say something to the young boys,” she said.
The gun violence is related to the violence that too many children experience early in their childhood, said Asadah Kirkland, author of Beating Black Kids.
“When you hit a child, you basically are showing them if somebody does something you don’t like, you hit,” she said, adding corporal punishment is still common among African-American parents.
“If we want to end gun violence and all of that, we have to communicate with them not in a way that is demeaning,” Kirkland said, calling on parents to “be civil with the youth,” so they learn to love and control themselves.
While agreeing the need to stop corporal discipline, some Austin parents said the biggest challenge in reducing violence is the lack of resources for parenting programs and the continuous influx of drugs and guns.
But the program was cut several years ago due to lack of funds.
“We’d take them to the doctor, make sure they got the shots and . . . continue to do their homework, so their grades would not suffer.”
Hartsfield said she’s not seen similar programs in recent years.
“It was a very good program,” she said. “And the problem is good programs always get dismantled.”
Another problem, she said, is that young parents in jail cannot care for their children, which too often leads to “the pipeline from school to prison.”
Gayinga Washington, 40, who attended Saturday’s meeting with her 6-year-old son Michael, said there are lot of young parents of this generation who do want to be great parents but have no idea how to begin.
She said the major reason for the gun violence on the West Side is the easy access to drugs and guns.
“It’s almost impossible for young men in my community to escape jail,” Washington said. “There’s a lot of temptations here, especially for young black males.”
“We have to stop the pop-up narcotics stores on every corner,” she said.
There have been some positive steps in terms of resources at the county level, Commissioner Boykin said, but the failure in Springfield to enact a state budget the last two years is crushing ordinary citizens and community organizations.
“There needs to be county, city and state collaboration around the violence,” Boykin said, noting there needs to be programs that create jobs and help parents.
“If we help our parents, single parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles raising these kids, and give them the support they need, then I honestly believe we can do something to reduce the violence that we see,” he said.