Commentary: Chicago's Prodigal Son Returns

Commentary: Chicago's Prodigal Son Returns

President Obama’s visit proves it's not an all or nothing solution in Chicago.

Published February 19, 2013

The only true power is the power to empower others.

I had recently been working with the Black Youth Project circulating a petition around Chicago and all my social networks demanding that President Barack Obama come and address the city's culture of violence and murders that has been plaguing many of our communities. A lot of the young and under served in our community agreed with me and signed the petition. We felt the president owed our communities the same respect and moral boost of his presence and attention he'd given Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, after their horrific massacres.

Others held high disdain, wondering why anyone would even suggest that President Obama speak to the issues of savages that have no appreciation for where they live or how they live. These people who were against my petition said the real problem was the parents, the local officials, the clergy and the residents of the community itself. They loudly proclaimed there was no speech the president could deliver to change the situation on the ground in Chicago. These people I speak of weren't white racist Republicans or Tea Party members, they were the Black middle class.

It seemed to me the people who most opposed Barack Obama speaking on violence in Chicago, even with the high profile death of Hadiya Pendleton, were those Blacks who could afford their mortgage every month, fill their fridges up and pay their luxurious car notes with ease. "How dare these low life negroes demand anything of our precious Black President and his beautiful family; let them figure it out on their own" was the sentiment I felt many so-called middle class Black people felt. Regardless of their cries that we stop our useless protest, President Obama saw our petition, heard our concern and decided it'd be morally correct and politically advantageous to visit the place he has a home in, once organized in and owes his political career to.

At Hyde Park Academy, the president addressed gun violence by speaking about the new legislation he's trying to put in place that would toughen background checks and limit the proliferation of semi-automatic weapons. He spoke to the role and responsibility we in the community had in our own future, detailing the importance of fatherhood and marriage to create strong families for children. He mentioned child support reform as a way of encouraging fathers to be more involved in the lives of their children and said he wanted to work with the 20 poorest communities in America to affect a positive turn around. President Obama spoke with many youth in anti-violence programs behind the scenes and addressed some of their fears personally.

This was a necessary and positive visit in my view. The president did exactly what organizers and activists in Chicago neighborhoods needed him to do, he outlined initiatives and steps the government could take and laid out what he needed from local leaders. It's up to us now to take the ball, dribble it down the court and pass it back to him for the layup. In order to make our neighborhoods safe, we have to stop with these “either/or” arguments and one method solutions. We need community members and organizers to work in tandem with local leaders and politicians local and national to make real change happen.

While I applaud the president for showing his face in the hood, I intend to stay on top of his promises and ensure he follows through once we do our part.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Written by Che "Rhymefest" Smith


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