GOOD

We Need Outrage (and Action) Over Harper High's Bloody Story

"Whether or not you want to be in a gang, you're in one."


Back in 2006 for an episode of her show, Oprah Winfrey took black students from Harper High School in Chicago's low-income Englewood neighborhood and swapped them with their white peers attending Neuqua Valley High School in affluent, suburban Naperville, 35 miles away. Both sets of students were shocked by disparity in resources and academics at the two schools. But at the end of a harrowing day at Harper, the Neuqua Valley students went home to more than just an Olympic-sized pool and two dozen AP classes. They went home to a safe neighborhood, too.

Harper went on to become the first Chicago school "turned around" by then-Superintendent—now Secretary of Education—Arne Duncan. While the turnaround provided Harper with a functional swimming pool, computer labs, and a dedicated staff, last year 29 current and recent Harper students were shot. Eight of them died.


For the most recent episode of This American Life, staff producer Ben Calhoun, author and documentary filmmaker Alex Kotlowitz, and WBEZ education reporter Linda Lutton spent five months at Harper talking to students, teachers, parents, social workers, administrators, and police officers. The episode reveals in heartbreaking detail how hard the staff works to keep its students alive, and the social, emotional, and academic impact the violence has on Harper's students.

At the start of the school year kids at schools like Neuqua Valley probably trade tips on how to survive super strict teachers, but Lutton learns that the rules for survival at Harper are about, well, survival. Rule Number One for staying alive at Harper is that you have to know your geography because whether you like it or not, says Lutton, your address determines your gang.

"When I ask kids what their parents don't understand about gangs these days, they say it's this: their parents tell them not to join a gang—as if there's some initiation to go through, some way to sign up. Today, whether or not you want to be in a gang, you're in one. If you live on pretty much any block near Harper High School, you have been assigned a gang. Your mother bought a house on 72nd and Hermitage? You're S-Dub. You live across the street from the school? That's D-Ville."

\n

After the January shooting of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, much was made of her being a "good" kid who wasn't gang-affiliated. Fewer than 10 percent of kids at Harper are active gang members, but the reality is that kids don't get to be gang-neutral anymore. Not even nerdy kids get a pass—if they live on a specific block, they're automatically affiliated with the gang that runs it.

Indeed, one student, Deonte—who is "poised to be valedictorian"—reflects on Rule Number Seven: "Never go outside." Students try to get involved in extracurricular activities so they can stay on campus—none of the shootings have happened at school—as late in the afternoon as possible. Once students go home, they don't even go out on the front porch. Deonte says years of staying inside alone have resulted in depression and loneliness. "I'm not really friends with anybody," he says.

The episode concludes right before the homecoming game in October. Harper's football team—which is so small that some students play both offense and defense—is one of the best in the city. Like the nerds, athletes used to get a pass from gangs, but no longer. The players estimate that "probably the whole team has been shot at." On the eve of the game, another Harper student is shot, leaving the school administration with the weighty decision of whether to cancel the game and the homecoming dance due to the possibility of retaliatory violence.

We have a mythology in America that the high school years are the best years of your life, but it's pretty clear that students at Harper aren't exactly racking up a slew of wonderful memories. As Ira Glass notes at the beginning, "in other places" what's happening to kids at Harper "would be national news." And since Harper's only one school serving a community that's been heavily impacted by violence, similar situations are surely taking place every day across America.

Which begs the question, why aren't we as a nation outraged over what's happening to these children? Could it be because these kids are black, brown, and poor? That's the only difference between them and the majority of students out at, for example, Neuqua Valley High. We should all be outraged that in the greatest nation on earth, blood is running through the streets. We need to collectively stand up and demand action. If we don't that means the blood is on our hands, too.

As for what happens with the homecoming situation—as well as more straight talk from the kids about how easy it is to get a gun—that will be revealed in part two, which airs (find your local station here) beginning on February 22nd.

Articles
Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less
promo-homepage

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics