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Little Leaguers’ success provides welcome relief from Chicago’s violent reality

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The Jackie Robinson West Little Leaguers are a diminutively masculine enterprise, with no Mo’ne Davis on board to steal the show from a plucky group that thrives on the concept of team. But as their heroic campaign to make Chicago proud rolls on, I’m ­happiest for their women — their moms and grandmoms, their aunties and sisters, their cousins and friends . . . all of them.

Yes, Beyonce blew through town to considerable fanfare this summer, and Jennifer Hudson attracts nearly as much notice as fellow home girl Michelle Obama when she returns to visit. Karen Lewis is a media fixture as she contemplates exchanging her teacher’s union post for a run at becoming mayor, and there used to be an Oprah.

But for longer than we care to remember, the prevailing image of black women in Chicago — in print, on television, everywhere — has been inconsolable grief as moms and grandmoms, aunties and sisters, cousins and friends . . . all of them wail in anguish over the death of another shooting victim.

The Jackie Robinson West kids have given a neighborhood’s women — and, by extension, an entire city’s — reason to laugh, to dance, to jump for joy, quite literally. How refreshing it is to see a wonderful achievement celebrated rather than another senseless death mourned, tears of sadness replaced by tears of joy.

But senseless death has become the prevailing narrative in the coverage of this city, and that’s unconscionable.

I thought we had reached the limits of outrage with the killing in April of 14-year-old Endia Martin, who died at the hands of a fellow 14-year-old as the tragic consequence of a silly dispute over a boy on Facebook. The murder weapon allegedly came from the assailant’s uncle, himself a shooting victim who had been left paralyzed.

The death of Shamiya Adams, an 11-year-old who was shot while playing with her friends at a neighborhood sleepover two months later, was just as egregious, and last week’s brutal execution of 9-year-old Antonio Smith maybe more so.

It’s too much to expect the JRW Little Leaguers to be any more effective than, say, the crusading Father Michael Pfleger has been in getting soulless predators from Chicago’s war-torn streets to put down their guns. But if they can help us change the way we think of the city’s young men, it’s a start.

The watch party I attended for JRW resembled graduation day at Leo High School, where I work. The melancholy we feel over a class of seniors leaving us always fades as we share in the joy the parents exude as they celebrate their sons’ achievement. Their pride is contagious. It’s a great day for all of us.

We’re proud of the safe, nurturing learning environment we have created for our kids, but we’re not immune to urban atrocities.

Two years ago, incoming freshman Antonio Davis was shot and killed in the heart of Englewood, mistaken for a drug-dealing gangbanger while visiting his aunt in a neighborhood that was not his own. He was 14, as sweet a kid as you’d hope to know. His mother’s grief haunts me.

Four months later, senior Miles Turner was shot five times and left for dead when he tried to extract his cousin from an altercation with gangsters in their Grand Crossing neighborhood. After eight months of miraculous ­treatment and therapy, wheelchair-bound Miles rolled himself up to the stage to accept his diploma at graduation. His mother, Angie, got to exchange her tears of anguish for tears of joy.

Two victims. And countless success stories, including Edward Vaughn, an aerospace engineering honor student at the University of Illinois, and Eder Cruz Alvarado, a Gates Millennium Scholar at Valparaiso University.

The South Side isn’t all guns and violence, as the Jackie Robinson West kids are proving. They’re also reminding us that, given sufficient opportunity, African-American kids can become exceptional ballplayers, at a time when they pretty much have been dismissed as a talent pool.

As I was leaving the watch ­party, a down-on-his-luck street guy approached and probably sensed I’d be an easy mark, ­exhilarated by the JRW kids’ gritty performance. He needed five bucks for a Ventra card and a few more to get something to eat, but I drew the line when he eyed another five-spot in exchange for the grimy wad of singles and change he produced from the pocket of his tattered pants.

Buzz kill? Nah. Just a sad reminder that people in need are a depressingly large and ­growing population, in this city and ­everywhere else.



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