On the last Monday of August, more than 400,000 students in the Chicagoland area embarked on their first day of school. It was then that parents in predominantly black and Hispanic communities first took notice of the 600 community members hired to stand on corners within the neighborhoods – in yellow reflective vests – as a part of our Mayor’s Safe Passage program.
When the program was first announced I was adamantly against it. It reeked of marking certain Chicago neighborhoods as dangerous conduits to schoo l- as if these children go through war zones and such.
Let’s not mince words. It’s not that I don’t think that the issue of our children living and going to school in dangerous areas exists. I just wish that this wasn’t another way to separate our children even more and make the problem even more glaringly apparent. Your neighborhood sucks, ours doesn’t. Your neighborhood doesn’t have people that care about you, ours does. Your neighborhood schools don’t have all of the cool stuff that ours does. It’s just so . . . yuck.
The blaring yellow signs that were put up throughout the city’s west and south side neighborhoods is something else that I have an issue with. To me, it intensifies the segregation that so many people swear we don’t have. If the sole issue were really one of safe passage, why not put the signs on all school walking routes? Why not hire people to stand guard on the north side of the city?
I attended school on the North side. I went to one of the best elementary schools in the city. Yet I still remember the dangers during my time. One of my young classmates was sexually assaulted by an older guy in an alley when she was in fifth grade. I just want our city to not target a specific area for “safe passage” when all of our children – no matter what neighborhood they live or go to school in – deserve it. Don’t instill a sense of danger automatically. Maybe I’m wrong. Or just looking at it from the wrong perspective. Who knows?
I am happy to say that the pleasant surprise that came out of all of this are the safe passage workers posted all over walking routes. The gentleman posted on our son’s route looks out for him and so far we’ve had plenty of conversations. During the horrible heat wave, we would bring him iced water during his shifts. Why is this important, you may ask? Because it encourages parents and the community alike to talk to each other, to get to know those surrounding them, to become, dare I say it, neighborly.
I’m not sure where I’ll stand come the end of this year, but for now, although I was against the program initially, I’m liking where it’s going.
I still hate the yellow signs though.