Why are our children dying? How could we let this happen to our children, our most precious resource?

These are questions I kept asking my boyfriend, with tears in my eyes, last week after a particularly hard day at work. Last Sunday night, one of the young men I love, Willie, was shot on our block. Thankfully he is alive and will be able to walk again, but the bullet struck less than an inch from his spine. Later that week, I found out that not only did a child I love have to watch his best friend get shot and killed in front of him, but he was the first person to tell that child’s mom.

Our precious babies. My heart breaks.

Questions our staff often gets revolve around: How do you not take this home with you? How do you disconnect?

For me, my answer is that we can’t. And not that I’m unable to, but that I shouldn’t. I can’t watch the people I love get hurt over and over again without hurting a little myself. And I can’t stand that I live in a city where we let our children die.

The US has 160 times as many gun homicides as England, but only six times the population. Excluding most suicides, at least 15,549 people were killed by guns in the United States in 2017, according to data collected by the Gun Violence Archive. Of the 15,549 gun deaths in 2017, Chicago made up 625 of them—and those are just the deaths. An additional 2,936 non-fatal shootings occurred, totaling in 3,561 shootings in our city. Englewood was ranked as the fourth deadliest neighborhood in Chicago.

These aren’t just numbers. These are lives. Each and every one of those thousands is a person.

And I see this reality play out every day, I hear the pain in our neighbors’ voices as they share that their life isn’t valued. I witness the fear, and I feel the grief. I see the ways mass incarceration, discrimination, and lack of accessible resources tear up entire communities, leaving behind only drugs and guns.

I Grow Chicago is a local, grassroots community organization, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to the larger national conversation about gun violence. We must participate, because lives are at stake. Our community, our children are at stake.

I can’t be silent about this, and I don’t think anyone who’s been in proximity to the problem can either. I encourage you all to use your voices and your platforms for change. Over the next two weeks, we are partnering with Cotton Bureau to sell our Put the Guns Down shirts, designed by local activist and artist/designer Jenna Blazevich of Vichraft. 100% of the profits will be donated directly to I Grow Chicago and our programs to bring hope and healing to the hood.

You can purchase the shirt here: https://cottonbureau.com/products/put-the-guns-down

After these two weeks, our Co-Executive Director Quentin will sell these shirts and our buttons through his company Englewood Peace Co.

Wear these shirts proudly, everywhere you go. When someone asks why you wear this message, share about your personal experiences with gun violence, share about Willie, share about our children. Together, with you and with our community, we can alleviate the traumatic effects of violence and poverty. We can create thriving communities, without fear. We can and we must.