Like 13-year-old Adam Toledo’s mom, I am also a mom in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. I can’t imagine her grief, and I don’t know her personally. But I know that the people who judge or blame her for his death, as she herself has said many do, don’t understand what it means to raise a child in our neighborhood today.
Little Village, a largely Latinx neighborhood where Adam was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer on March 29, is a community that needs a lot of resources. For example, he attended Gary Elementary, where 95% percent of students are from low-income families. . Our neighborhood’s working parents, especially, struggle financially. Even some families that have lived here for 15, 20, or more years work multiple jobs just to afford the rent that’s increasing due to gentrification.
Many in our community are also undocumented, which means that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have not been eligible for stimulus checks, food stamps, or other government supports. That has made the economic situation even more dire.
Of course, we as parents and caregivers want to provide our children with the best life possible. But we don’t have the support that we need to overcome poverty and invest in our children the way they deserve. Kids in other wealthier neighborhoods have access to a wide range of after-school activities. We have a neighborhood YMCA, but even that is too expensive for many families. Instead, everything we earn has to go to feed our family or to pay for the car that takes our kids to school and us to work. It’s not right.
This pattern repeats itself in institutions throughout Chicago: affluent, white communities have access to resources that lower-income and marginalized communities don’t. I’ve seen this play out in my work with SexEd Works, a campaign to get sexual health education in all Chicago Public Schools. We — a group of survivors of gender-based violence — organized the campaign because we believe that learning about what healthy relationships look like can help prevent community violence. We created this campaign because, as survivors, sharing this information allowed us to recognize violent patterns and support each other in healing. We are community members who want change for our schools and our children, and we believe this investment is one of many that our city and Board of Education officials can make.
While creating this campaign in 2018, we found that 70% of Chicago Public Schools are not in compliance with the mandatory sexual health education program. The majority of these schools are on the city’s South and West sides. We believe that providing community resources, such as sex education, mental health counselors and nurses in every school, and free after-school programming will prevent violence in our communities. When our children have more knowledge about consent, how to say “no,” and ultimately have stronger boundaries in relationships with confidence, they are more prepared to navigate social pressures. Many people are putting all the responsibility on parents who are struggling without providing us with the support we deserve.
The people of Little Village and other marginalized communities are tired of the constant news cycle that wants us to accept that this violence is normal or somehow not preventable. Our elected officials see us as “empty votes” due to systemic barriers and don’t put in the effort to help us unless they can take advantage of a photo opportunity or add this project to their resumes.
We — teachers, caregivers, community members, elected officials, everyone — need to invest in more community-led efforts so that our children can live in a world free from violence, a world where they can thrive and not just focus on surviving poverty and the police. We need to organize campaigns that center the needs of our communities and especially the health, joy, and safety of the next generation. The responsibility of keeping our children and neighbors safe belongs to all of us — not just the parents, not just the mothers.
Adam Toledo deserved more support from this city. His mother and all mothers of Little Village deserve everyone’s support now. We are all responsible for keeping one another safe.
María Serrano is a resident of the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago and a leader of Healing to Action, a grassroots organization working to fight gender-based violence in Chicago.