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Joakim Noah shines spotlight on inner-city kids

DEERFIELD IL - SEPTEMBER 25:  Joakim Noah #13 Chicago Bulls poses for portrait during 2009 NBA MediDay September 25

DEERFIELD, IL - SEPTEMBER 25: Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls poses for a portrait during 2009 NBA Media Day on September 25, 3009 at the the Berto Center in Deerfield, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Updated: August 20, 2012 11:46AM

As a member of the Chicago Bulls, you most often see me on the court as we take on the best teams in the NBA. However, the Bulls organization also does great things off the court. While those activities may receive less attention, they are equally important to me.

I have had the opportunity to be active within some of the less fortunate communities in Chicago. Paying attention to the kids has always been a big priority of mine, and I try my best to understand some of the problems in their neighborhoods, such as education and violence. I feel a sense of responsibility to them because I am in a position that is visible to all different socioeconomic classes within the city. The kids who can’t afford tickets to the games care about our team just as much as the people who spend their hard-earned money to sit courtside and watch us play.

I recently watched a PBS documentary called “The Interrupters” about a group of former gang members who work together within the community to disrupt violence, primarily in high-tension situations. I recommend everyone, especially Chicagoans, see this documentary. It is moving, and very important. I reached out to Cobe Williams, one of the main voices of the film, to get a better understanding of the issues facing these communities. I also asked Cobe to talk to some of the kids he interacts with and have them write down what was going on in their neighborhoods and how they think things could be improved. I want to use my voice to give them a voice.

Here are some of the things they had to say:

“We turn to violence and other things because we feel that’s the only way to deal with things… everybody looks down on us like we are not humans. We act out because it seems like that’s the only way we can get some attention. We need more role models in the community because I feel we are lost.” — Jay-Jay, Englewood

“Every person doesn’t have a good at-home living situation, and to be able to get away from that and go to a recreational center to do positive things you enjoy is a big deal… It keeps you out of the streets and decreases the chance of a young person finding trouble.” — Trello, Englewood

“A few ways I think we can cease the violence are improving the CPS public education system, more jobs to teenage kids, more recreational activities and, most of all, having people in the community to let them know violence isn’t the only answer.” — QC, Englewood

“One person can’t do it alone, it’s going to take a united effort. It can’t start with talking down on the youth or telling them all about the wrong they do. You have to build them up and give them some positive praise and let them hear something good.” — Kejuan, West Side

I just ask that, you, the people of Chicago be aware that there is a disconnect in the city. There are kids who are at risk and these kids have a voice. They have a great understanding of the issues that face their communities and my hope is that people hear what they have to say, and we collectively try to figure out ways to help.

Joakim Noah donated his fee for writing this column to the Noah’s Arc Foundation.

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