I read a news report a few days ago that has stuck with me and I feel compelled to write about both the report and what I feel is the most important take-away from the interviewees in the report. First, I would encourage you to read the story and watch the accompanying video. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/02/17/chicago-gang-members-say-more-police-wont-stop-murders.html

The words of the young men interviewed by journalist Michael Tobin have stuck in my thoughts. One of the gang members stated that “Half of these guys don’t got no mom…They moms or fathers was lost to the same gang that we getting ourselves into now.” Kevin Gentry, another young man interviewed said, “We are more like a family than a gang…brothers.”

It’s not a new piece of information that gang members usually don’t have strong family units. It’s a fact that has been talked about by former gang members and depicted in after-school-special-type television shows. Most of the time, gang members are looking for a family experience, where they feel loved, appreciated, and cared for. If we, as a society, can refocus our attention on the importance of the family unit, we could possibly change and save lives. There is so much attention paid to the aftermath of the actions of a wayward child instead of on the child’s beginning. The only way to stop the gang violence is to stop the reasons for it, such as the lack of a loving, safe home for each child.

The violence in Chicago is staggering. There were 762 homicides in Chicago in 2016, most of them gang-related, according to a report by CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/01/us/chicago-murders-2016/). These young men and the girls who become associated with them are looking to fulfill the basic needs that we all have: shelter, safety, love. They are not getting this from a mother and father.  This is where it all starts.

It is not easy to be a parent. It is especially not easy to be a single parent. Children need role models. They need to see a mother and father working together to set a good example. It can be done with one parent, but I know single parents who would gladly have a partner to help. Each parent provides a vital role for the child. Parents together give a child a sense of continuity, protection, love, and emotional balance. A child needs good examples of both male and female roles in the home and the community. The children who don’t have this type of example in the home are going to look for it elsewhere. Hopefully that will be with another strong example, such as an uncle, grandmother, coach, church leader, etc. But, if the child can’t fill their basic needs this way, they may turn in the wrong direction, like to a gang. One of the men Tobin interviewed described how touched he was that one of his fellow gang members gave him a gun because it made him feel loved that this person wanted to protect him. That is a feeling that should come from a parent and I am saddened that he does not have that.

A strong family unit, with upstanding parents eliminates the need for violent gangs. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach these young men right from wrong and to ensure that their child knows the consequences for doing wrong.

A Need for Good Fathers

While a mother is so important to shaping a child’s character, a good father is equally important. A father sets the standard of what a young boy should strive to achieve. If he sees a hard-working, honest man, then that is what he will want for himself. A young man needs a father to teach him to be strong and loving at the same time. A good father sets rules and follows through with fair disciplinary action. He teaches his son good work ethics, responsibility, and to hold strong to his beliefs. A good father also teaches his son through example how to treat women with dignity. He does not allow his son to degrade a woman for any reason.  A good father takes an interest in his son. He talks to him, plays with him, and listens to him. He is there as a guide showing love and affection.

If the father is in jail or otherwise absent, he leaves a void in his son’s life. A void that must be filled in some way.

A father is vitally important to a young girl, too.  He provides an example to his daughter of what a good man is and how she should expect to be treated. As a young girl, my father made sure to spend one-on-one time with me, taking me camping and to the ballet. He took interest in my activities, and listened when I told him how some boy was the cutest thing ever. When I started listening to music he didn’t like, he talked with me about it and explained the reasons why he didn’t feel it was a good example for me. He always opened doors for me, encouraged me in school and in activities, and he still buys me Valentines cards. He taught me to expect respect from the men I dated and to set standards for myself in every area of my life.

If a girl does not get the love and affection she needs from her father, she will turn elsewhere to find it. The girls who associate with gang members are looking for affection and are willing to do whatever it takes to get the attention of these young men. It makes them feel loved and wanted, even if it is fleeting. These men also provide for the basic needs of shelter, security, and means for food and clothing, for as long as the men are around. Then the girls may be left with an unwanted child and the cycle starts all over.

It is often said that women marry (or date) men who are like their fathers. Apply that to the situation of these girls who get involved with gang members.  They either have no father or a father who is a bad example so they gravitate toward a man who is unstable, disrespectful, and surrounded by violence.

So how do we fix this? It is not an easy answer. The first step is always education. Education not only in terms of school, but in terms of life. We have to stop the cycle of broken homes and focus on the importance of the family unit. Girls need to know that men in gangs will not provide a stable life for them and are not a substitute for a father figure. Boys need to know that gangs may seem like the only way to get the help they need, but gang life will only give them prison sentences, fear, guilt, and even death. Both the young men and women need to understand that raising a mentally – and emotionally-healthy child while still being a child, and without a proper home and steady income, is nearly impossible and will just result in another generation of children looking to gangs for the answers to their problems.

The young people in areas where gangs are prevalent, and that’s not just Chicago, will struggle with poverty and violence for the rest of their lives if they give into the notion that gangs provide what they need. The only way out of that life is to get an education and, once you are educated, help the community in any way you can. While this can take time to progress, there are steps that we, who are privileged enough to have grown up in healthy environments, can take to improve the conditions for these young people who have the capacity to do great things.

Mentor children who are struggling because they lack role models. This can be accomplished through community centers, churches, and non-profit organizations. Be the example these children need so that they understand there is another way of life of which they can be a part.

Provide resources to community organizations that help children stay out of that lifestyle. Making a donation is always appreciated, but there are other ways to help. If you work for a company that can provide materials for community centers, approach the executives with a proposal (include any recognition they might receive. Even though that’s not the point, they always like that). Put together a community drive to provide donations of sports equipment, art supplies, and books that can be given to the organizations who offer youth programs.

Were you good at math or science in school? Tutor children having difficulty in these or other subjects. Just letting a child now there are people who care and who are rooting for their success could give him or her motivation needed to continue their education. We all know education is vitally important to success.

You could also fund before and after-school programs and transportation programs so kids don’t have to walk through dangerous areas. Whatever you choose, you will be making an impact for the kids in that area, and for all of us. Less gang violence means a safer world, less children feeling abandoned and unloved means a healthier, happier world. Stop the cycle of violence!

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