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William Kunkel/ MEDILL

Garrett Wolfe watches Prince Nephew of Teen REACH energize the crowd before their performance.

'Children should not be dying'

by William Kunkel
Oct 07, 2009

A Chicago Bears running back said he knows how important the company you keep is, which is why he participated in an event promoting after-school programs as a way to end teen violence.

Chicago Bears Running Back Garrett Wolfe and Gov. Pat Quinn headlined an event at a West Side community center on Tuesday.

The event was organized by Teen REACH, a 29-year-old after-school program in the Austin neighborhood, which trains children in music production.

Wolfe, who grew up in Austin, said that while he is aware of the violence on the West Side, he knows how important it is for a child to be surrounded by good people.

“I’m a direct example of what can happen when you have a positive support system in place like Teen REACH,” he said. “It taught me a lot being in the neighborhood, but I am also aware of the ills that can happen if you don’t have positive support systems.”

State Sen. Kimberley Lightford, a Chicago Democrat who represents Austin, spoke after a performance organized by children in the Teen REACH program.

The hip-hop style performance highlighted the violence Austin neighorhood children face. Among the verses were: “Please don’t shoot. Stop the violence. Don’t shoot. I want to grow. Let me see what I can be.”

Lightford, who had tears in her eyes during the performance, said the children’s presentation proves the fight against violence is not in vain. Children are dying, she said, and parents in the community must become more active. It is appalling, she said, that these children are begging to not be killed.

“This is not a discussion they [the children] should be having,” she said. “We should be ashamed of ourselves if we don’t do something about our kids killing themselves in the street.”

After the presentation, many children lined up for pictures with Wolfe. This raised a concern for Lightford. When a celebrity endorses such a cause, she said, it always seems to be an athlete. While that is not a bad thing, the children think in order to escape the ghetto they must be an athlete. That's not realistic, she said.

“I think that it’s good for them to see visually someone that was their neighbor in their environment excel outside of the community,” she said. “I don’t know it is always good that is an athlete, because then kids think they can be in the NBA or NFL.”

Dr. Karen Taylor-Crawford, a children’s psychiatrist at the University at Illinois Medical Center at Chicago, said it is nice to have an athlete involved at these events and their presence is a great promotional tool. But, she asked, are the kids there for the message or to get an autograph? The athlete also must be invested in the long term and not just present for a photo op, she said.

“The athlete will get attention to the event but what steps are taken afterwards?” Taylor- Crawford asked. “Kids hear people say stuff all of the time.”