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Chicago Defender-Our children must never stand alone

Our children must never stand alone
By Andrea L. Zopp

As you read this column a 14-year-old girl sits in custody accused of the April 28 shooting death of 14-year-old Endia Martin. According to authorities, this young lady, whose name is withheld because she is a juvenile, admitted to the murder. She took the life of her once-friend over a social media spat about a boy and has ended her prospects of having a successful future.

Just when this story couldn’t get any more heartbreaking, it does. As the details of the tragedy unfolded, it was revealed by authorities that the accused girl’s uncle provided her with the weapon that was used in the shooting. In addition, the suspect’s aunt was among a crowd of people who, along with the uncle, knew of the pending confrontation and bore witness to the murder. And it was all caught on videotape, according to prosecutors.

The day after this shooting that was aided, supported and encouraged by adults, the 14-year-old suspect stood up in a courtroom to face first-degree murder and attempted murder charges. And where were the adults in her life then? Nowhere to be found. This young girl was left to face the most serious of criminal charges alone. No one to support her, counsel her or simply be with her. Imagine, for a moment, one little girl taken from her family and another little girl, accused of the murder, standing alone in a courtroom. This is a tragedy, an outrage and a wake-up call. No child should ever have to stand alone.

Every child deserves to have an adult in their life that is willing to nurture them, support them, and when they appear to be headed in the wrong direction, to steer them in the right direction. And, if they should make a poor life decision, they need an advocate to stand by them to help them endure the consequences.

I know that this is easier said than done. Especially at this time of the year when we prepare for summer and hope and pray that crime and gun-violence doesn’t spike up. But our children need us. They need to know that we care about them. All of them. No matter their age, race, economic status or zip code, they are all our children and we must take ownership of their well-being. We can do it—one child at a time.

I challenge every adult who cares about the well-being of Chicago’s children to, as soon as possible, find one young person they can mentor. Let’s show them by our example that there are benefits to doing well in school, respecting ones’ neighborhood and nonviolent conflict resolution. And for those of us who are in a position to give a teenager a part-time job, please do so. It costs next to nothing to show a child that you care. But the impact of making a small investment in a young person is priceless.

Someone who knows the long-term benefits of a small investment is Diane Latiker. More than ten years ago, she opened her Roseland home to give neighborhood children a safe place to meet, study and interact with each other. That gathering grew and today, the organization she founded, Kids off the Block, has its own building and has empowered more than one thousand youth.  She started a one-woman movement after deciding she’d had enough of losing young people to crime and violence. Each of us has the power within to start a movement.

Another way you can have a positive impact on our youth is by participating in Chicago’s Summer of Faith and Action. Launched last weekend, this initiative encourages churches, block clubs, neighborhood associations and community organizations across the city to put their faith and hope for a better Chicago into action by hosting positive activities in safe spaces. Through this effort, you can build your own empowerment model that works best for your neighborhood.

Earlier in this column I asked you to imagine the tragic images of Endia Martin and her accused shooter. Now, imagine how much stronger our city would be if of each of us would take the time to be a guiding light to just one young person. This can have a domino effect that will restore hope and improve the outcomes of our young people and our city.

Our children need us now. So let’s step out on faith, reclaim ownership of our communities, and stand up for all our children.

Andrea L. Zopp is president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League