Hadiya Pendelton is buried 9 blocks to the west of my home on the Southside of Chicago. I drive past her gravesite almost every single day. Approximately 9 blocks to the north of my home is the monument to murdered teenagers erected by CNN Hero Diane Latiker and her organization Kids off the Block. Last week CNN broadcasted live from this monument in light of the President’s recent visit to Chicago to discuss the issue of gun violence in the nation. I have close friends, family members, and students whose lives have been unalterably shattered by this epidemic. The conversation about gun violence is personal as my community represents ground zero of this issue nationally. As a result, I am increasingly angered and frustrated by the partisan and myopic rhetoric I hear surrounding solutions to this problem by our national leaders.
“The family is the corner stone of our society. More than any other force it shapes the attitude, the hopes, the ambitions, and the values of the child. And when the family collapses it is the children that are usually damaged. When it happens on a massive scale the community itself is crippled. So, unless we work to strengthen the family, to create conditions under which most parents will stay together, all the rest-schools, playgrounds, and public assistance, and private concern-will never be enough.”President Lyndon Johnson
In her book, The Mighty and the Almighty, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reflects on her childhood as the daughter of a diplomat and her decades of foreign service. Her reflections span from lessons learned in negotiations, her unique position as a female diplomat, and the plethora of relationships she has built with leaders around the world. Yet this book focuses on an issue lost on most in American diplomacy. After all of her years of service, one of the most significant lessons she learned was that religion matters in international relations.
Newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel campaigned on a promise to reform the city’s failing public schools. In his brief tenure, he has laid the groundwork for incentive-based pay based on the federal “Race to the Top” program, advocated a longer school day and school year, and has re-prioritized the focus of educational spending. In front of him lies the daunting challenge of changing a system that has struggled for years to provide an equal quality education for all. It is a challenge that faces many mayors and he must be applauded for confronting it in a bold and comprehensive manner. Yet as a resident of the city, an educator, and a parent, I am concerned that these efforts miss the essence of real reform.
This week I found myself involved in a spirited facebook debate on the impact of the Obama presidency. This debate, held among members of my church community, was filled with such acrimony that it became obvious why many churches avoid politics like the plague. Clearly, there were well-defined camps of both liberals and conservatives, and neither seemed willing to acquiesce an inch to the other side. I forgot for a moment I was witnessing a debate among people with the same Lord and faith. What became evident through this debate was that the Christian community desperately needs biblical direction and healthy platforms for conversation and engagement around the intersection of faith and politics.