Sunday, April 27, 2008

When Does it Stop?

These past few weeks there has been an increase in violence across the city of Chicago. I live in East Garfield Park, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the city. Police District 11, which is located a little bit south of us, has the highest per capita murder and violent crime rates.

I am a huge fan of statistics. I'm not sure why, but I am. Marshall High School is located about 1.5 miles away from the center. In 2007, the % of students meeting/exceeding state standards in reading? 7%. In math? 2%. That means 93% of students at Marshall High School are behind in reading and another 98% are behind in math. Now that's a statistic.

Here's another stat about Marshall High School...the average student misses 50 days of school per year. 50 days. FIFTY DAYS. 5-0.

As soon as the students walk in the doors, they are hit with metal detectors, grave-face police officers, and yelling teachers. In Marshall High School alone, there are said to be 15 active gangs. ACTIVE. 15.

And we wonder why our children are turning to violence?

This week, the violence hit pretty close to home. Octavius Daudridge, a father of 2 kids i've come to know in the neighborhood (one of which was on my basketball team) was shot and killed on Tuesday night. His sons that I know are 9 and 12.

Friday night, a young man in 8th grade, who is on one of Breakthrough's League basketball teams, got jumped. Apparently he was smashed in the head with a brick. Last time I heard, he was in critical condition at Mt. Sinai hospital and wasn't supposed to make it (We serve the God of impossibles, though, so i'm praying for a miracle).

As I looked into the eyes of Jarell and Antonio while they told me about the kid, I saw pain...pain that no 13 year old boys should ever have to go through. As I seen Rasheed (one of Octavius's sons) a couple of days ago and asked him how he was, he said ok, but I seen his eyes...I saw pain. Pain no 12 year old boy should ever have to go through. (Isaiah 41:28-31)

When does it stop? How does it stop? Does it start in the classrooms? Does it start with helping students actually meet state standards? Will that show them that education is the key to a better life? Will making education interesting to these students keep them away from gangs? Violence? Does is start at home? Does it start with parents making sure they know where their kids are at all times? Making them come in when it starts getting dark? Does it start with them teaching them morals? Does it start with Mayor Daley? Actually doing something besides talking? Does is start with him making a earlier curfew? Wait...he already did that. Does it start with the media? Does is start with people like Lil Wayne and Nelly actually telling people that violence is NOT the answer. Or at least not glorifying guns and revenge? Does it start with the media cracking down on rappers' and R&B artists' lyrics? How about the radio stations refusing to play certain songs? Does is start with Obama? Does it start with him pushing for stricter gun laws? Holding parents more accountable? Or does it start with us-the Church? Saying...enough is enough! Loving on the students an alternative after school, so they aren't walking the streets and getting into all kinds of mess? Does it start with the Church acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly? Does is start with the church getting a little Holy Anger...enough that it MOVES them to do something besides just grumble and gripe about everything?

When does it stop? Who does it start with? Can we really blame our youth for turning to violence when it's all they see? Can we really blame our youth for turning to gangs, when its the only real family they have? Can we really blame our youth?

When does it stop?

"Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humilty, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts..." Colossians 3:12-15a

God bless you all. And again, God have mercy on our souls.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Please Read

Here is a link to a NYTimes blog where Will Okun, a chicago public school teacher on the westside, (the school is about 5 blocks from us), talks about his struggles as a teacher in a failing school system. Please, please read this article...

What do you think?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

5 People...

Moving to Chicago has definitely changed me alot. I am not the same person I was when I left home some 8 or so months ago. It has been a year of change, a year of growth, a year of learning, a year of pain, and a year of joy. And throughout the year, there have been plenty of people in my life who have been there through the ups and downs...been there to listen, to lend a shoulder to cry on, to make me laugh, and to put me back in my place. Yet, I am so horrible at telling people how much they mean to me. I don't know why but it's very hard for me to just be like, listen...I love you and i'm thankful that you are here for me day in and day out. So, I wanted to write about five people whom have really...just really been impactful on me since I moved to Chicago.

1. Laura C: Laura and I met in California back in September, little did we know that it was a God-thing. We have been friends ever since and I am so thankful for her. Without her, I fear Chicago would still be a scary and foreign place to me, but instead…it is a city I love and enjoy exploring as often as possible. Also, I’m thankful because I rarely have people to ask questions of me and my growth…and she does. For as iron sharpens iron, so one (wo)man sharpens another. I am also thankful for her because she has to listen to my millions of questions, thoughts, laments, and angry tears as I wrestle with my daily walk. I always enjoy our Wednesday outings, we never seem to run out of conversation and laughs (and weird accents hahaha)…and I am really glad that she is my friend.

2. My sister. Leanne is one of the strongest women I know. And she is an amazing mother and older sister that I look up to enormously. She will always be my best friend and ever since I moved to Chicago, I have realized how much she means to me and how much I miss her. Leanne teaches me so much about life and she keeps me in line (all too often). Sometimes I wish I was more like her because she embodies everything I’m not. Yet, I know that God made us different so we would get along so well. Most of all, I’m thankful for her support…for she has been behind me in everything…and makes me feel like she really is proud of me, and not just because I’m her sister.

3. Darmesha Washington. I know it may be weird putting a 14 year old girl on here but this girl…she keeps me laughing. And, she has this uncanny ability to make me smile, no matter how bad or tiring my day has been. And laughter, I believe is one reason I keep my sanity here. I am thankful for her because even at her young age, she shows me what Jesus really meant when he said to love each other. For she truly exhibits Christ love in her actions and words and I am very thankful that I have the privilege of knowing her.

4. My grandmother. My mamaw is my rock. I definitely know I don’t tell her as often as I should, but I admire her so much. I think the most important thing about my relationship with her is my respect for her. Honestly, I don’t really hold many people in high respect, yet my Mamaw…I do. She is such a strong, wise, and hard working woman. Mamaw teaches me so much more than I think I could learn from anyone else on this earth. She puts things in a new perspective and every time I get off the phone with her, I feel like I’ve learned something new or she has forced me to think outside of what I had before thought. I am pretty sure I have the best grandmother in the world. And, I love her so much more than she will ever even know, probably because like I said before, I’m the worst at sharing my feelings!

5. Finally, my good friend Katrina. This girl, I have seen her grow so much over the past year. I have known her for three years...met her when she was still a teenager and I was in college. She is now a sophomore in college and thriving as a godly woman. As you get older, its interesting how you begin to lose contact with a lot of your high school and college friends. And since moving to Chicago, I really don't talk to a lot of friends from my past. There are only a handful that have stayed in contact, yet matter what, still manages to make time for me. I am so thankful for her support and guidance. She may be younger than me, but she is so full of youth ministry wisdom it astounds me. And, she has taught me the difference between joy and happiness...which has really changed my attitude about a lot of things. She is a great friend and I'm proud to call her my sister in Christ.

God bless you all...thanks to everyone (family and friends) for your continual prayer, support, and love for me!

Friday, April 18, 2008


Today I was sitting here, browsing around on and I saw the "Week in Pictures" link and decided to click on it. If you have never seen this before, what happens is at the end of every week about 15-20 photos are selected from around the world to be put on the week in pictures section. At the end of the section is a place where you can vote for your favorite picture.

After looking at the pictures...I realized that we as a culture are becoming dehumanized. We go so far as to look past the humanity in the pictures and think, oh wow...this is a good shot. Does anyone see the devastation in picture 12? Do you see the humanity of that young man, bleeding to death? Or do you only see a casualty of war, the color of his skin, and the country he lives in? What about picture 15? Do you only see the way the shot is a perfect capture of shading and sunlight? Or do you see the world letting these young children suffer from starvation and malnutrition? Do you see the pain in the mother's eyes as she can't even take care of her own children? Or do you just see the photographer's eyes? And what about picture 13? Do you see the clarity and color of the picture? Or do you see the filth and trash these people live in? Do you feel a sense of injustice and anger when you look at this picture and see the unsanitary conditions that these children are forced to be surrounded by?

See...I could easily vote for the best picture. Yet, I don't understand how we as a culture can sit in our comfy chairs at home, drinking our bottled water, using our laptops and be okay with voting on the best picture. Shame on us for becoming a culture desensitized and dehumanized so much that we don't even care that these pictures are taken at the expense of seeing someone's pain and grief. Shame on us that we are a culture that when we see these kinds of things, we don't even bat an eye but we continue to live our lives, our comfy and selfish lives, and, now thats a great shot. God forgive us for not following your act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. Forgive us Lord...forgive our nation....forgive our world.

God bless you all. (and Lord have mercy on our souls)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

One Year Later

Today is the one year "anniversary" of the VT massacre. A year ago today 32 students and teachers were killed by a very disturbed young man. I can still remember the day it happened...and the immediate fear I had. 2 of my very good friends went to school at VT, one of them supposed to be in the hall where the gunman killed most of his victims. My friend, Brittany, was late getting to class...and as she pulled up to the parking lot, she saw squad cars everywhere, people running, and vast chaos. So, of course, she left...shaking and scared. She got home, turned on the television and saw what was going on. Thankfully, her and my other friend were safe. Yet, so many people lost their lives that day.

And I ask that you would join with me as I pray that the families of the victims (and the gunman) are comforted today and that even today they are healing and seeking after God through this tough time. I also pray for my friends and the many other students that had to go through the horrendous ordeal. I also pray for our lawmakers that they would begin to realize that stricter gun laws must be enforced and that too many of our students, college and high school, are becoming victims.

I read this girl's comment the other day..."we want futures, not funerals." I think that says it all.

God bless you all.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My wonderful Condo...please enjoy the video :)

Well, decided to upload a video of my home. I know you always want to know what it looks like...and so I was bored this saturday afternoon and thought, here ya go...just an uploaded video of me walking around our home.

Hope you enjoy my tour (sorry I look so rough haha)

God bless you all!!!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Things that make me smile :)

Cynical is an interesting word, huh? The definition of cynical is negative or pessimistic, as from world-weariness. In the past week or so 2 different people have hinted around that I have been a little cynical lately. And, after looking at this definition, and seeing the things i've written on my blog the past month or so...I've realized that sometimes I forget about the joy that I feel every single day and the utter, incondescent happiness I have knowing I am exactly where God wants me at this present time. I am so, so very thankful for being here...for being able to be a part of something that is so much greater than me and Breakthrough. And, I ask God...forgive me for my blindness at times...for my ability to not look beyond the present or the things that are seen. Give me eyes to see the see the unseen and to know that you are GREATER than anything in this world...and you are inside me...forgive me Jesus for my attitude at times. Grant me the ability to see these kids and our neighborhood as you see them.

Anyways...I love my job and my kids. Everyday, I await (sometimes impatiently) for 2:45 to roll around so the kids will start showing up. It's my favorite time of day! I've decided to write down somethings that have happened lately...

Here are a few things that have made me smile these past few days...

* Melissa looking at me, smiling and saying "Shasta, you don't like LOVE me!"

* Talking "basketball" with Keenan

* Sitting in my office for 20 minutes playing race cars with Zyliek :)

* Hearing Yakira yell at me to "watch" as she shot basket after basket at freetime (and missed every single one of them lol)

* Seeing Donquilis come to bible study (one of my basketball kids not in our program)

* Bria asking me to "come play" even though it killed her to speak to me! haha

* Elvalenna writing a 9 page story about Succeeding in life...her own future! (and it actually being good!!!!)

* Laughing with Boozie on the bus

* Hearing the girls actually ask GOOD and RELEVANT questions in bible study (first time!)

* Becoming closer to the older boys...they respect and like me now cuz "I know how to play"

* Losing time after time after time to all the little kids in carpetball and secretly laughing because they think it's a big feat (when actually i just really suck!!!!)

* Finally, every single day...being able to see God's love and grace in every single one of these beautiful, creative, and invaluable children...and knowing it's such a blessing to be learning from each and every one of them.

Other things (besides my kids) that have made me smile these past few days:

*Tennessee winning back to back championships

*The weather finally starting to warm up!

*Laughing as Mariko, Andrea, and I try to carry a 100 lb bag into her house....yikes!

*Not having to sit by myself at church last sunday (thanks Tati)

*Finally deciding to delete my facebook account...thank God!!!!

*Hearing Mesha's voice for the first time in almost two weeks

*Going downtown for the first time in months

*Finding my new favorite breakfast place (I wanna be a local!!!)

*Knowing Sara will be back in the states in less than 48 hours!

*Seeing Molight and Moet for the first time in two months

*Finally, God reminding me everyday how blessed I am to be alive and healthy!!!!

God bless you all!!!!

Monday, April 7, 2008


Something that is very disturbing to me is the growing number of CPS students killed this school year. It breaks my heart to see kids killing kids. I was telling my mom a few days ago that I truly believe there is NEVER a reason for violence. Never! If we try to stop violence with more violence, how will it ever end? Jesus clearly said, Love your enemies, return good for evil. He never said, it's ok only if they hit you first...or it's okay for war if you are protecting your people.

We are taught so often that redeptive violence is okay (look at the war!)...that there is a logic to it...yet, what exactly is this logic? In a book i'm reading, the author says, "the Jesus way shows us that we need not battle violence with power and force, but with humility and revolutionary subordination. Violence eventually kills itself. Sometimes all the peacemakers need to do is battle violence with revolutionary patience and steadfast hope, for the universe bends toward justice and the entire Christian story demonstrates the triumph of love."

The older I get and the more I see the tragedies around me, the more I am convinced that there is NEVER a reason for you agree or disagree?

Here are the names of the CPS students killed this 07-08 school year...may God be with their families and may we continue to pray that God will bring those who harmed them to justice:

Jerel Smith, 17, Frederick Douglass Academy High School-
Shot and killed on Sep. 9, 2007

Dalvin Miller, 14, Sexton School-
Shot and killed on Sep. 14, 2007 while with friends on the 6200 block of South Langley Avenue

Israel Mendoza, 13, Ames Middle School
Shot and killed on Sep. 10, 2007 after being abducted from his home.

Cordero Washington, 18, Banner South Alternative High School-
Shot and killed on Oct. 6, 2007

Arthur Jones, 10, Holmes Elementary School-
Shot and killed on Oct. 17, 2007 in the middle of gang crossfire

Samuel Benavente, 14, Eberhart Elementary School-
Shot and killed on Oct. 21, 2007 after trying to help a friend whose bike was stolen.

Joseph Perez, 17, Steinmetz Academic Centre-
Shot and killed on Nov. 2, 2007 later found in an alley on the Northwest side

Miguel Gomez, 16, School of Social Justice-
Shot and killed on Nov. 8, 2007 by a suspected gang member

Leonardo Otero, 15, Kelvyn Park High School-
Shot and killed on Jan. 7, 2008 in a drive-by shooting

Roky Uriostegui, 16, Kelly High School-
Shot three times and killed January 16, 2008 by suspected gang members

Karlton Wells, 16, Nancy Jefferson High School-
Shot and killed Feb. 20, 2008 in a fight over a cell phone

Rogelio Calderone, 17, Lozano Youth Connect Charter-
Shot and killed Feb. 29, 2008 after confronting a group of gang members

Jose Garcia, 18, York Alternative High School-
Shot and killed March 1, 2008 while sitting in a parked car

Kadeidrah Marsh, 15, AAST – Orr Campus High School-
Shot and killed March 2, 2008 after a dispute involving another girl

Paris Bassett, 16, School of Leadership South Shore-
Shot and killed March 2, 2008; found on a South Side sidewalk

Ruben Ivy, 18, Crane Technical Preparatory Common School-
Shot and killed March 7, 2008 by a suspected gang member

Channon Taylor, 18, Community Christian Academy-
Shot and killed March 8, 2008 while sitting in the back seat of a car

Marcellus Daniel, 15, Bronzeville Military Academy-
Body found in a garbage can on 3/14/2008, the victim of a gunshot wound to the head

Salvador Contreras, 18, Gage Park High School-
Shot and killed March 16, 2008 in a possible gang-related shooting

Miguel Pedro,15, Alfred Nobel Elementary-
Shot and killed March 28, 2008

Chavez Clarke, 18, Hyde Park Career Academy-
Shot and killed March 29, 2008 after leaving his Saturday class at Simeon Career Academy

Shannon Brown, 17, Fenger High School-
Died from a gunshot wound to the stomach early Tuesday April 1, 2008

Brashai Griffin, 15, Bloom Trail High School
Found strangled to death in a creek near her Sauk Village home

Albert Vaughn, 18, Juilian High School
Beaten to death by a baseball bat, Saturday April 5, 2008

God bless you all...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Last night I decided to go with Andrea, Seth, Bill, and the high schoolers (mayors) to a profession-al soccer game. I don't really like soccer that much, I just really wanted to spend some time with our mayors since I almost never do during the week. And it was FREEZING and rained the entire time...yet we had a ton of fun. The kids, they had such great attitudes about it and decided to enjoy themselves regardless of the weather. We also got a "concert" on the way down to the game and an even longer one on the way home! lol They sang everything from "No One," and "Awesome God," to even some KAA cheers. It was quite funny (btw, none of them can sing lol) I didn't end up getting home till a little after 11. It was a very long day but it was definitely worth it.

I am amazed sometimes how Jesus chooses to reveal how I am working for his kingdom not just as a "technology program assistant". Moments like sitting in a bus filled with silly teenagers and seeing out the window 3 boys and a girl walking on the streets at 9 something at night makes me realize how Breakthrough is much more than an afterschool program. Moments like sitting in the van and listening to Sarah (Mission year participant working with our women's services) talk about one of our guests and how she is working hard now and not living in the center now...makes me realize Breakthrough is much more than a shelter. Moments like sitting in my office for 30 minutes talking "sports" to 2 players off my basketball team (whom otherwise would barely set a foot in my office) makes me realize this isn't really about basketball...this is about building relationships and showing them Jesus.

And I'm thankful for those moments...because it reminds me that I am here on earth for one glorify God. I really have no idea where I'll be in 6 months. I'd love to stay with Breakthrough, I truly believe building relationships takes more than a year but it's not up to me, so I'll just wait and pray that God keeps me here or sends me to where he wants...not where I want. But, no matter if I stay here or not, Breakthrough and these kids...these moments will forever be engraved in my heart. The things I've learned, the joy i've felt, and the tears that have fallen is not in vain...wherever I go or stay, I know that I'll be a better person because I've been here!

(BTW, picture captions: the first one is of Lauren,Jonesha (Mayor), Jonetta (Mayor), and Jameisha; the second one is of JJ (mayor) and his "city", and finally the last one is of Boozie (mayor) and his little bro outside their house).

Oh, and I read these verses a few nights ago, please enjoy:

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" Isaiah 58:5-7

God bless you all!