Monday, April 11, 2016

Light in Darkness: A Vigil Against Violence

I love my life here in Chicago, but it has its downsides. Even risks, you might say.

Two weeks ago, an 18-year-old boy was chased down and shot on the street right in front of the monastery. The shooting happened at 4:30 in the afternoon, within a one block radius of an elementary school and a daycare.  The boy’s name was Antonio Johnson. Nobody knows why it happened or who is responsible.

While the issue of gun control, especially as it relates to mass shootings, has been in the news a lot lately, this was the first time that gun violence has really hit close to home for me. My neighborhood of Rogers Park is on the north side, in one of the safer parts of Chicago. Though there are some active gangs, they aren't as prevalent here and remain mostly invisible to me in my daily life. For other parts of the city, though, that is far from true. 

I think the saddest part about this shooting is that something so horrific barely makes the news anymore. This year alone there have been 815 shootings in Chicago; last year there were 2,988. On January 11th 2016, the Chicago Tribune ran a story headlined “10 Days into the New Year, More than 100 People Shot in Chicago.”

In the face of so much violence, it is easy to just shake your head and feel depressed for a second and then move on to the next thing. But the community I live with didn’t do that.

Last Wednesday, some of the sisters (spearheaded by S. Benita Coffey) organized a prayer vigil and march along Birchwood Avenue where Antonio was chased by his killer up to Ridge Avenue, where he was fatally shot. Attending this vigil was a very moving experience. Despite the wind and rain, around 40-50 people showed up to the event— not only sisters and oblates from the monastery but also members of the surrounding community. I saw all kinds of people – black, white, Hispanic, single people, families with their children. Even S. Vivian, who is 100 years old, braved the rain to be there. We sang together, S. Pat Coughlin read from Psalms, and S. Judith Murphy sprinkled holy water on the road where Antonio died.

S. Benita said the whole point of the vigil was to “reclaim the place for peace.” But for me, and for many of the other people there I suspect, the main reason for coming to the vigil was to do something. To show that, despite not knowing Antonio, I still care. To express my shock and sorrow and belief that what happened is not ok. By providing the people of Rogers Park a very active and public way to share that with the world and each other, I think the sisters gave the neighborhood a gift. And I was glad to be a part of it.

Click here to see a video of the NBC Chicago coverage of the event (You'll spot me in a few places)

the crowd retraces Antonio Johnson's steps, holding candles

S. Judith Murphy leads a prayer

S. Vivian hold the holy water while S. Benita, S. Johnette, and S. Maryann look on

Me, concentrating hard to light a candle in the rain

S. Benita takes questions from the media

In other news, this week we began our spring semester at the Indo American Center. I had the opportunity to welcome new students as well as hand out certificates to several of my old students. As these beginner students move up to level one, I’m going to miss having them in my class, but at the same time I couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments.

This week I also celebrated an accomplishment of my own.. Myself and two of my fellow teachers at IAC received Outstanding Tutor Awards from Literacy Volunteers of Illinois. How’s that for a little pick me up!

Me with the Beginner (now Level One!) students

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