Road To Change Starts In Chicago

The Road To Change came to town. It wasn’t lost on me how they put the spotlight on Englewood, a forgotten neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago where finding a liquor store isn’t a problem. It’s finding a Starbucks.

Saint Sabina Church hosted the event. They have an annual Peace March. I’m ashamed to admit it was my first time going. I’ve lived in Chicago damn near 4 decades, but for some reason I have an easier time getting to Washington DC than Englewood. It was a march to stop violence and yet the mood was joyful. They can push us around, they can kill our kids, they can lie to us about The 2nd Amendment, but they can’t steal our joy.

I live on the North Side of Chicago. It took me an hour and seven minutes to make the pilgrimage. Parking was easy. If you compare the crowd size in Englewood to the crowd size in Washington it’s tempting to see the momentum as dwindling. I say fight this temptation, even though I’m no pastor. Sometimes we have to walk away from God to find our calling and at this moment in time it’s pretty clear God is nursing a bad back and has no interest in doing the heavy lifting. If we want to stop the madness, we’re going to have to do more than march.

As the event got started, someone on stage asked the crowd if anyone in the audience had lost a child to gun violence. The parents were asked to raise their hands. The rest of us were asked to look around. It’s hard to make eye contact with someone who’s there hanging on to a memory, standing next to a ghost.

They began listing all of the kids shot in the past year. In the beginning it’s emotional. But they listed over 140 kids. I can’t be exactly sure of the number, but somewhere around 30 names, the crowd began drifting, looking for something else to do. You might think it’s heartless but it’s human nature. It’s too much to bear.

There’s a dad touring around this summer who lost his son in Parkland. He’s making a mural. He spray paints 17 graduation caps and then takes a hammer to pound a hole in each cap. It sounds like a gun. It’s startling. After he finishes, he places a sunflower in each hole. Then he picks up a bullhorn to ask if we’re paying attention.

We’re not.

Clearly we’re not.

I crawled up to the front so I could feel what was going on instead of standing safely back. Despite my good intentions, I was reduced to a spectator of his grief. I couldn’t help but wonder how long he’ll have to make a show out of his son’s murder. After he was done, I approached him. We shook hands. I told him I was sorry for not doing more.

It’s been 19 years since Columbine.

His son wasn’t even alive when the epidemic of school shootings began. When I stop to think about how little I’ve actually done to help stop the madness, it’s humiliating. Then I saw a couple kids I recognized from Parkland, the famous kids. I told them I’m sorry. I asked them to please stop listening to grown ups, the grown ups are too busy shopping to notice what’s going on. Then I asked them to try and enjoy summer.

When I was their age I was making horrible decisions, like you’re supposed to do in the summer after your senior year in high school. I was smoking pot and trying to get a girl in Gainesville to notice me and oversleeping classes at summer school.

I was a disaster.

It was heaven.

I hope the kids from Parkland, especially the famous kids, give themselves a break. They can’t fix this and even if they could, it’s not on them. It’s on us, all of us.

The fence of Saint Sabina held wishes. There were notes written on cards tied to the fence. Most of the notes were written by kids and you could tell they were written by kids since they used stick figures to express the confusion. I think all of us should be required to return to expressing ourselves with stick figures so none of us could pretend to be grown ups. Especially the pretend grown ups playing make believe experts on the news.

I tried to get in to the media waiting room so I could charge my phone. They asked for my credential. I told them I was there on behalf of Fake News. I thought I was being funny but it was a bad call. The guard instantly got annoyed, opening the door and telling me to get out. When I accommodated his anger without protest, he changed his tone and let me know there were plugs on the side of the church. So I sat on the steps, charging my phone, listening to celebrities make speeches. Will I Am was there. Chance The Rapper was there. Jennifer Hudson was there. But I’m such a dork, I only got excited when I spotted Gabby Giffords.

I rushed over to see Gabby and then felt ashamed. There she was, limping through the crowd, barely able to walk with a cane. I wished for her to be anywhere else in the world. I wished for her to be freed from the role of poster child for gun violence. I wished crosshairs were metaphors instead of dog whistles. I wished she was teaching water aerobics to entitled septuagenarians in Scottsdale. But my wishes don’t work, they’re broken like thoughts and prayers.

I decided to leave Gabby alone.

But I saw her and it broke my heart.

I was in Arizona when Gabby was shot.

I was standing in a Mac Store, goofing-off when a ripple of pain shot through the room like an electric current. The woman standing next to me began crying as soon as news broke of the shooting. She got on the phone to see if her daughter was okay. Her daughter was at the Safeway. The experience was so unnerving, that night I went to the candlelight vigil in Phoenix to pray for Gabby. I cried at the vigil all those years ago and much to my surprise, I cried as the dad made the mural yesterday in Englewood.

Not much has changed. Besides the number of people shot dead and our willingness to accept it.

In this Bizzaro Reality TV World we’re currently living in, we’ve turned survivors into celebrities, parents into performance artists and children into crusaders.

It begs the question: where are the grown ups?

The Road To Change is passing through 75 cities this summer. Ask yourself what you did in the summer after your senior year in high school. Then remind yourself what these kids are doing and if you can’t be bothered to re-evaluate your choices, do all of us a favor, shoot yourself before someone else does it for you.

Sorry if you’re offended.

But I’d rather you were offended than haunted by Joaquin.