By Katie Cahnmann, RBA Advisory Board member
Heartache. Outrage. Enough is enough!
Choosing a career path working in social services supporting at-risk, low-income, minority youth, I expected to hit burnout from time-to-time. I never realized just how emotionally draining the work could be until I was in the thick of it. I recall one year, right before the holidays… I was reaching the end of my rope hitting burnout. I was feeling emotionally drained from work. I remember driving home most days in tears. There were even a couple of days I couldn’t even get out of my car after I parked by home and just sat there crying.
I am not ashamed, though, as my tears are shed out of passion, love, heartache, and care. For a decade I had spent my career working as a high school counselor on the southside of Chicago. I had provided social emotional support to hundreds of students. These young, impressionable, lost children had bared their souls to me. They poured out their hearts. They cried. They yelled. They begged. They yearned for better.
Some of my students have impressively beat the system, knocked over barricades, and broken through the walls of defeat even when all odds were against them. Many of my students were homeless, parentless, and often hopeless. They were growing up in unsafe neighborhoods where most of them carried a similar goal and hope… to make it to their 18 th birthday. Unfortunately for a number of them, 18 is a number they would never see. Gang violence too often cuts their young lives short whether or not they have any gang affiliation. And sometimes, these young souls are so lost, they’ve opted to give up all together and cut their own lives short by committing suicide.
I’ll never forget the first student I lost. It’s been over a decade but I remember it as if it were yesterday. The disbelief. The pain. The confusion. The anger. It was all there. I just didn’t understand how or why God could allow it to happen. It was the longest most mentally draining day I have ever experienced.
You would think overtime it gets easier. By the tenth student maybe it doesn’t hurt as much or have as strong as an impact…. But it always hurts and it never gets easier. I’ve had to console too many grieving students, staff, and families. In times of loss there is little anyone can say or do to ease the pain and suffering but I did what I could.
In a couple cases I’ve seen strong families find the light at the end of the tunnel and create something positive out of something so negative. I recall two families of lost students who exemplify what it means to rise above and overcome defeat.
One of my students was shot and killed in November of 2012 around the Thanksgiving holiday. It was one of those wrong place, wrong time stories and she was not the intended target. She was a sophomore in high school at the time and was resourceful, driven, athletic, religious, kind, bright, and positive. She had already started saving her change so that when she became a senior her mother wouldn’t have to worry about how to fund prom and graduation. Unfortunately, she didn’t get the chance to walk across the stage at graduation because of senseless violence…. Her young, precious life was cut short.
Hurt, devastated, and completely heartbroken her family wondered what they would do with the money their daughter had been saving. Her mother, remember the thoughtfulness of her lost daughter saving change to help pay for prom and graduation, knew exactly what to do…. continue just that. The whole family agreed they should continue saving their change and donate the funds to another senior in need.
They carried on their beautiful daughter and sister’s memory every every year since their loss. The year, she should have graduated, the family wanted to do even more. I worked diligently with them to organize a fundraiser in their daughter’s honor.
Students, staff, and families were encouraged to save their change and donate it to the fund. Surprisingly, my student’s mother was able to stand strong in the face of adversity and be a role model to so many others who have walked in her shoes. She somehow found the courage to push forth and turn a negative into a positive.
That fundraiser was a few years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday along with events that followed. A week later, I remember news about a senior that graduated the year prior being shot and killed hit the news while another student came to me with a letter stating he was thinking about committing suicide unrelated to the other incidents.
I was able to get the suicidal student the help he needed and thankfully prevent any attempts. Needless to say, that December was a tough month and drained me emotionally. We went on break and I had two weeks to refresh and prepare for the new year. We’re barely into our second week back and I awoke one morning to more devastating news. Another sophomore at my school had been gunned down.
He was shot and killed near 39 th and King Drive. Noooo! Not again!!! Enough is enough. It’s not fair. It’s just not fair that some people never really get a chance at life. It frustrates me. It infuriates me that so many lives are taken from senseless gun violence. Guns kill! But I don’t know how to stop it.
How do we teach people that killing is not the way when violence plagues our world? Turn on the news and you’ll hear stories of terrorist attacks, mass killings, serial murders, public places being shot up (churches, grocery stores, malls, movie theaters, etc), and so on. Are we safe anywhere?
It scares me and it pains me to see so much devastation in a world that is also filled with so much beauty. We must stop the nonsense. We MUST stop the violence! Too many lives are cut short unnecessarily. What are we doing to stop it? To change it? To improve it? I don’t think we are doing enough.
Though I am not sure if anything we do will ever be enough. I encourage you to speak out against violence. I encourage you to lead by example. I encourage you to take a child who appears lost under your wings and be a mentor. I encourage you and I challenge you to do what you can to make a difference.
Support a great cause that you believe might be just what we need….. My stories about my students being shoT is why I support Ryan Banks Academy, Chicago’s very first boarding school. I am proud to sit on the advisory board and do my part to make a difference and have a positive impact on our youth.
Ryan Banks Academy will provide a safe environment and quality education so all of our youth have the tools and the security they need to be successful! In the wise words of the great Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” If you’re with me and you agree ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, do something about it! Follow Gandhi’s words and “be the change that you wish to see in the world.”