Thursday, November 18, 2010

Community Night: Folks, People, and Teenagers

As of 2008, there are four to six gang members to every one law enforcement officer in the state of Illinois. California and New Mexico are the only other states with this uneven of a ratio--most fall between the 2-3 or 0-1 gang member per law officer category. In Illinois you can bet the numbers raise considerably when you look at just the city of Chicago. Gang and gang culture is a part of Chicago's history and is intertwined with it's neighborhoods (Chicago is one of the nation's most segregated cities, so the neighborhoods usually also align racially/ethnically and socioeconomically), economy, and politics.

My community learned all of this last night, and the more we learned the more questions we had. How did gangs start, how do people become involved, is there any way to leave a gang, what does this mean for our work here?

The short answer is gangs mean a lot to our work here, not just because we are working with mostly underprivileged youth, but because these youth grew up/are growing up in many neighborhoods affiliated with certain gangs and without any other outlets (supportive family, involvement at school or in sports), many kids in these neighborhoods join their local gangs. It's a way of life, and one that has thrived for so long, many don't really question it.

Sin NombreWe concluded our night by watching Sin Nombre, a film mostly about a young girl trying to reach the States with her father, but also about gang culture in Latin America. It was in Spanish with subtitles (BAILEY: will you watch this with me sometime? You'll like it, I promise.) and sparked another lengthy discussion, this time relating the story of the characters with the kids we work with.

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