Take a moment and think back to when you were 12 years old. See life through the eyes of your 12-year-old self. What were you most excited about? What did you dream about, what were your hopes and goals for the future? Think back to your favorite moments since then: perhaps it was going to high school football games, or going to prom. Recall your favorite college memories—the good times with friends, the parties, the intellectual debates you took part in with your professors. Do the same thing for your time as an adult. You may have memories of when you first met your spouse, and about your wedding day. Perhaps you’ve done some incredible travel, and your fondest memories involve exploring the world, meeting new people, and opening your mind to what’s possible. Your favorite moments may even be incredibly simple, yet meaningful nonetheless—reading a great book in the sunshine on your porch on the first warm day of spring, playing with your children or your pets, enjoying a glass of red wine. Over the past 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years since you were 12 years old, you have experienced a wide range of positive emotions and happy memories that I’m guessing you wouldn’t trade for the world. I bet there is no dollar amount that I could offer you that you would take in exchange for giving back all of your favorite memories. But what if you had no choice? What if you were forced to hand over all of those positive memories—and what if there was no prize or cash reward for doing so. That’s exactly what happened to Niazi “Ryan” Banks on May 19, 2012, when a bullet pierced his brain and ended his life.
A Child Full of Potential
Ryan was just 12 years old. I was Ryan’s school social worker at the time. Shortly before he was killed, we worked together on making a vision board. While other boys filled theirs with pictures of sports cars and supermodels, Ryan’s was different. Ryan chose words like “the power of the possible,” “hope,” “opportunities” and “the world’s greatest starts with a single step.” Ryan’s vision board was that of a child full of potential. He was loving and funny, and though he had a difficult life and had every reason to be angry, his positive energy emanated from his every interaction. Ryan will never get a chance to experience life as a teenager and an adult like the rest of us. And though Ryan is very special to me and to his family, he is one of many. Over 3,000 children have been shot in Chicago in the past five years, and hundreds have been killed. A child in Chicago is shot on average every 17 hours, and one is murdered every four days. Too many of us consciously and selectively ignore what is happening in our own backyards. We would rather give to a charity far away on another continent than admit that atrocities are being committed every day within a stone’s throw of where we live, work, play and raise our own families. But if we do not come together to collectively take a stand, our city cannot and will not move forward. We will never come together to achieve greatness in economy, innovation, let alone self-actualization when we turn a blind eye to the plight of those without opportunities.
We Have an Opportunity to Change Right Now
The Parkland, Florida, shooting has lead to an outcrying of support for stricter gun laws and students across the nation have become activists rallying for change. In addition to supporting these much-needed efforts, it’s also crucial for us to address the systemic issues at play that are at the root of urban violence. In Chicago, we need more gun control but also must address the fact that our city’s crime epidemic has ties to poverty, exposure to trauma, limited access to resources and limited access to the opportunities that more privileged youth are afforded. The dialogue needs to be about gun control, and also about providing these children with trauma-informed care. Now is the time for us to finally do something about it.
Valerie Groth received her Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Indiana University, attended Dominican University where she received her master's in Social Work, and received her second master's degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University.
Before starting her business, she worked for many years as a school social worker and therapist in the inner-city schools of Chicago. She ...