This past week I had the opportunity to attend two great events on the south side. A showing of the Kartemquin film, The Interrupters, and an all day event dedicated to youth activism past and present, which included a showing of The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975. Both events were well attended by both community members and college kids, which made for some much needed face time as well as discourse. While the different participants came to both events to see the same presentation, it became clear in the aftermath that they came for different reasons and with prior assumptions in mind. It also became quite clear that some points regarding trust in the Black community hold so true for individuals that open discourse isn’t enough.
Specifically, I was struck by The Interrupters film itself and the cease fire strategy, which utilizes trust building as an integral role. As presented in the film, many of the interrupters are former street organization members and affiliates who have served time on the streets and behind bars. This grimmer past seemed to serve as motivation for the interrupters work and an identification point with those being interrupted. Again, trust becomes more than a desire but a bare minimum when acting in such a high stakes situation of gun violence.
This dynamics of trust and respect arose in the second event where there was a day of discussion of youth activism past and present. The room was filled with Black people who came because of a belief in the importance of activism in the Black community and a desire to contribute. However, once the lofty ideas of Black love and Black power were unpacked our more difficult wounds were reopened. Throughout the day issues of chauvinism, accountability, and intergenerational division were brought to the forefront of the conversation. One panelist noted that the youth panel was poorly attended in comparison to the earlier panel with elders and academics. Elders stated their disappointment in the arrogance of the youth and their rejection of life gained wisdom. On both sides there was a deterioration of trust and respect, which contributed to a lack of respect across groups.
It may seem on the outset that our community is lackluster due to the absence of jobs, hyperactivity of youth violence, and strained relations between members. However, I believe that the presence of groups like Cease Fire and the influx of people from the south side who were willing to venture to the University of Chicago campus to discuss activist efforts speaks louder than our griping. There always has been and still is a tenacious spirit for reclaiming the power in our community. What I found was was not a vast gap between the values of any two groups but a low expectation of support due to this implicit distrust. Che “Rhymefest” Smith made a timely statement citing the need for us to put a specifics into play in terms of identifying the enemy and placing a direction on our vision and efforts.