As of today, Urban Initiatives serves 4,785 kids across 23 schools in communities like Englewood, Roseland, Cabrini-Green, Humboldt Park, Pilsen and North Lawndale. The reality our kids face everyday isn’t the same as what other youth around Chicago or it’s outlying suburbs encounter in their own communities.
The constant sound of sirens and loud cracks of gunshots are considered the social norm in these communities. The kids we serve through Urban Initiatives programming speak about gang and drug violence as if it were a common occurrence to them, and it really is. Keep in mind these are mostly second, third and fourth graders who encounter these living conditions near their own homes.
After wrapping up a Wednesday morning practice with some of the brightest and most skilled players from Reavis Elementary, Coach Tom strolled through the parking lot that sits next to the school and happened to stumble upon a very unnerving item on the ground. A shell casing from a bullet that had been fired either toward or near Reavis Elementary, located in the Grand Boulevard Community near 50th and Cottage Grove, had landed into the school’s parking lot.
Coach Tom is originally a native of Syracuse, New York. Syracuse has its share of senseless violence but Coach Tom was fortunate enough to grow up with a strong positive presence from his family and got involved with sports at a very young age to deter him from joining any negative lifestyle, as he grew older. Although fully aware of the everyday troubles our kids face, this is the first time it has really hit him on a personal level. “My immediate thought was what if one of our players was outside when this happened?” said Coach Tom about what went through his head when he came across the bullet casing.
Many of us share the same thoughts Coach Tom had and would have been, as he put it, “REALLY upset that someone would have so much disregard to shoot a gun near the school.” Think about that. “Shoot a gun near the school.” Someone shot a gun near the place where our children go to learn and expand their knowledge. A place for our kids that should be a safety zone rather than a danger zone, which in reality most of UI’s schools are located in.
If a Reavis player would have found that bullet casing instead of Coach Tom they might have not even bothered to look twice. Realizing that it’s a bullet, they may have assumed someone probably got shot and simply continue on their journey to school. There is a great chance that the sight of bullet casings on the ground is completely normal to them.
That sort of senseless violence is the main reason why Reavis Elementary is constantly on lockdown during and after school hours. It’s unfortunate that Reavis soccer players cannot even practice or play outdoors and enjoy the warm weather, shining sun and little bit of green space they have available to them to play the beautiful game of soccer.
Urban Initiatives provides a Health and Education Soccer Program to Chicago’s underserved youth. But another aspect of our programs is that we are providing opportunities for these kids to be just that, kids.