Weather Updates

Mitchell: Honor Jonylah Watkins by helping to change her neighborhood

Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: April 15, 2013 11:33AM

The most fitting memorial for Jonylah Watkins is a living memorial.

Tying balloons to a tree and collecting teddy bears that the child will never play with is an empty gesture.

The balloons get bigger. The T-shirts get flashier. The hearses are longer. But the murders don’t stop.

It is no wonder that a lot of people outside of the black community think black people have a tolerance for violence.

On Wednesday, I wrote that while Chicagoans are outraged over Jonylah’s death, most could tune out the tragedy because they live in safe neighborhoods.

Some of you argued that I’d gotten the “mind-set” wrong.

“Many of us are confused by what often seems like acceptance of violence in the community,” wrote Jake in an email.

Regarding the “no snitch rule . . . In reality, very few of us would put our lives or our loved ones’ lives at stake by snitching and risking retaliation,” he said.

“But where are the calls for curfews? For the Illinois state guard to lock down the streets and establish safe haven playgrounds and sites for the children in the interim? Where is the distaste for the animalistic violence in hip-hop music . . .” Jake continued.

“A lot of us would do more to help if the avenues were there. I don’t know how to tutor a kid in one of those neighborhoods . . . I’d volunteer to be a classroom aide. If there was a bus tour to patronize neighborhood businesses . . . I’d go on one regularly, but no, I’m not driving by myself there. Same thing for a neighborhood patrol. It’s not that there’s no ‘we’re all in this together spirit,’ but that it’s hard to channel it,” he said.

But no one wants to live in a neighborhood that is on lockdown. As it is, in some neighborhoods the only people left to face the gang-bangers are the elderly people who aren’t able to move away.

As for the filthy rap lyrics, black sororities have been battling this issue for decades without support from any of the major civil rights groups.

Additionally, there are a lot of underfunded nonprofits where concerned citizens are working in the trenches to improve the quality of life in these communities.

You don’t have to physically go to these centers to make a difference. I’m sure they would welcome a donation.

What we need now, more than ever, is courage.

It doesn’t take courage for a gunman to walk up to a man who is changing his baby’s diaper and pull a trigger.

But it takes courage for outsiders to go into these communities and let their light shine.

As for the residents, it doesn’t take courage for them to keep their mouths shut after someone has been shot.

But it takes courage to leave the thug life behind.

As expected, some readers have renewed the call for Gov. Pat Quinn to order out the National Guard.

But how long would it be before an innocent person living in one of these neighborhoods gets mistaken for the bad guy.

More importantly, an armed guard can’t do anything to change the heart of a young person who is willing to kill someone over the slightest provocation.

That’s a job for the religious institutions that are located on just about every corner, especially since these churches enjoy tax-exempt status. Church leaders shouldn’t wait until someone is killed to address the violence.

More importantly, we have to stop waiting for someone else to fix this.

“I listen to the speeches and the anger and the indignation and see the hurt, but nobody offers solutions,” said Sheila in an email.

Dean asked that I call out the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Cornel West, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Minister Louis Farrakhan, Bob Starks and other high-profile blacks and ask them to denounce black gangs.

Most of these men at one time or another have already called out the gangs with respect to violence.

In the end, it is on the families who are living with violence to confront it.

To honor Jonylah’s memory, families in Woodlawn will have to help change the destructive nature of their neighborhood.

That is the only fitting memorial for a 6-month-old homicide victim.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.