Late Tuesday morning in an immediate and heartfelt response to the Monday night shooting death of Elijah Sims, an OPRF senior, while in Austin, Rani Morrison, a longtime Oak Parker, sent me this letter.

Lightly edited, Ms. Morrison’s response to a fellow parent’s question, “What can we do?” follows today in place of my usual column.

Today when discussing the murder of an Oak Park and River Forest High School student, Elijah Sims, a fellow parent asked, “What can we do?” As an African-American mother, woman, social worker and member of this community for over 15 years; this was my response.  

Bear with me, because this may end up being stream of consciousness versus anything intelligible, but I’m frustrated, tired and scared. 

I think what “we” can do is be advocates for better, no matter where it is — better schools, better laws, better equity, better access. There is no magic wall at Austin that protects us from the “ills” of Chicago or living in an urban environment. In the last six months we’ve had a student lose her father to gun violence on the West Side, a former security guard and now a student. We are not exempt. 

I think another thing “we” can do as we continue to talk about race, equity and all things in between in our community and in the school is be hyper-cognizant of the fact that these kids — my children, their friends, their classmates — being a minority even in Oak Park, gives them an experience that they can’t explain, because they are kids. But I can. 

In the last five years, I have lost several sorority sisters to gun violence in Chicago — educated, middle-class, middle-aged black women who were doing nothing other than working or parked in front of their mother’s homes. 

My stepson was shot in January and his brother killed in front of him. Leaving my aunt’s home, my children and I saw someone shot in front of us on Jackson Boulevard. Before I graduated from high school I’d lost five friends to gun violence, and that wasn’t even in Chicago. 

As middle-class, educated, high-income as I am, my kids used to be terrified for me to go to work because I used to go into people’s homes all over the city. I don’t know that my non-black neighbors and friends in Oak Park can relate to the experiences I’ve had, and my children have had. 

I don’t think many of my 8-year-old’s classmates at Lincoln dissolved into tears during reading like she did because their brother was shot. In fact, I had to tell her it probably wasn’t a good idea to talk to her friends about it, because I wasn’t sure that they would understand and I didn’t want to scare them. 

To this day; I don’t know that many people know about the OPRF student that lost her father — shot dead in the street this past spring. I can’t speak for her, but I know for me, when your experience is different from the majority, you’re not sure if you will find empathy or be judged. 

I fear for our African-American boys every day. It brings me to tears, because I’ve been around long enough to know no matter how much money your parents make, no matter where you live, no matter how well-spoken you are, when they walk out of their door every day they are simply black boys. 

And they bear all the risks — and it is risky — of being a black boy in this country and state. 

They go with their friends to hang out? They may be profiled. They go to the city to visit their cousins? They may be shot. They go into a store? They get followed. They get in trouble at school? They are labeled. They get pulled over by the police? They may end up dead. 

They are constantly fighting for their lives, trying not to be a statistic — and it’s not fair. 

We live in Oak Park because we want diversity, experience and access for our children, and it works. But it is not protective in and of itself. At the end of the day, they have to walk out of these doors and into the world. 

The difference is when my black children walk into the world, they often are facing something very different than their non-black peers. 

So I don’t know what anyone can do specifically; hell, I am still trying to figure out what I can do myself because I feel so helpless and defeated. There’s so many who just simply don’t give a damn about the value of life — theirs or anyone else’s — but I do know that if you can remember that no matter where we live, what our income is, what we do, many of your friends/neighbors are fighting a war, whether you can see it or not. 

And it’s not a war that is won when we “get” to Oak Park.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...

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