It is the weekend, and we are in Chicago, having just attended the four-day 2023 AERA (The American Educational Research Association) Annual Meeting, “Interrogating Consequential Education Research in Pursuit of Truth.” A few of us decide to meet for adult beverages.
The AERA hosts the largest annual meeting of educational researchers in the world, during which we share insight with colleagues, engage in conversation with scholars in our respective fields, and offer mentorship to graduate students and junior faculty. The four days are packed with educational sessions, panel presentations, and roundtable discussions.
With the conference still fresh on our minds, we ordered our beverages of choice and sat back to discuss the topics we had heard, learned, and debated over the past four days. The lights are low and the silky sound of smooth R&B is playing over the speakers as we lounge in overstuffed velvet chairs, absorbed in our friendly conversation.
Little do we know, outside our four-star accommodations in downtown Chicago, something sinister is going down. Hundreds of teens are gathering in downtown Chicago in a coordinated effort, advertised as “the trend” on social media, intent upon causing chaos. Two teens are shot. Several are arrested.
Just last summer, 16-year-old Seandell Holliday was shot and killed by another teen at “the Bean” in Millennium Park in Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot instituted a curfew for unaccompanied minors, prohibiting them from entering Millennium Park after 6 P.M. Lightfoot stated, “As a city, we must ensure that our young people have safe spaces to congregate and that in those spaces they are peaceful and actually safe. I am calling on all parents, guardians and caring adults to step up at this moment and do whatever it takes to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again and to encourage appropriate behavior when our young people gather anywhere in this great city of ours.”
Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson, whose comprehensive approach to public safety is being tested before his first official day on the job, condemned the weekend’s violence but cautioned against what he called “demonizing youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities.”
After reading about what had occurred within mere blocks of our quaint, yet spirited get-together, the irony was not lost on us. Here we are, Black folks with advanced degrees, book contracts, and a wealth of knowledge, absolutely helpless to our younger brothers and sisters mobilizing in Chicago’s streets, influenced by social media, mob mentality and in possession of guns.
In 2020, gun violence was reported to be the leading cause of childhood death, with death rates having more than doubled since then. How can it be that an affliction of our own creation, which has surpassed death by other childhood diseases, rob our children of their most sacred gift? Is it social media influence? Is it the easy access to guns? Is it poorly trained police officers? Is it a lack of parental supervision? Do the teens not have enough resources or “safe places to congregate?” Are our elected politicians ineffective? In our opinion, it is a mix of all of the above. As educators and researchers, educating all involved—from teens, to parents, to police officers, to local politicians—is one answer.
Social media influence. There is a plethora of information, facts and professional opinions on both the positive and negative affect social media has on our young people. For example, Parents.com wrote an article explaining how Black teens use it differently, its affect, and potential safeguards. .
Police response and training. Sisters.com lists the “10 Best Cities in America for Black Families to Live in 2023.” The article mentions safety, employment opportunities, embracing diversity, and good schools as a few of their qualities. According to an article on Chicago’s WTTW/Chicago PBS (Window To The World) site, “Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the United States…have created clear lines of division between racial groups.”
Politicians. Are the current oppressive educational policies (i.e., banning Critical Race Theory and other books), intent upon erasing the diversity and equity gains we have made over the past 20 years, helpful? I don’t recall reading a book as having ever killed a child.
Parents. Remember this iconic phrase, “It’s 10 p.m., Do You Know Where Your Children Are?” It’s 2023, perhaps we should also consider, “Do You Know What Your Children Are Up To On Social Media?” We live in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips and where ideas can easily be shared, as evidenced by the mob of teens that used social media to mobilize, gather, and enact violence upon downtown Chicago.
As you can see, it’s a complex problem—and not just Chicago’s problem, but nationwide—that cannot be resolved in this short opinion piece.
Parents, police, politicians, educators: we need to make this a top priority. Let’s educate ourselves. Share ideas. Set goals. Most important, act.
Dr. Adriel A. Hilton is Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management at Southern University at New Orleans.
Dr. Cheron H. Davis is Associate Professor of Education Florida A&M University.