This American Life is one of my favorite radio shows. As a radio/NPR addict that’s saying a lot. I’m a regular listener to Fresh Air, The World, The Moth, Selected Shorts, Whad’Ya Know?, To the Point, Splendid Table, Marketplace and, of course, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. You may now understand why I don’t have time to do much of anything else. The one blessing of being a radio addict is that you can multi-task while listening, unlike reading. It’s hard to drive and read, cook and read, clean the house and read, etc. not so with radio. My iPod changed my life. I have Aps for all my favorite stations/shows. I plug in my ear buds, turn on the ipod and I can go happily through life.
However, there are some shows which just stop me in my tracks. There are broadcasts which are so riveting that I can’t bear the distraction of any other activities. That was the case with the current show on This American Life. The show, recorded at and about Harper High School in Chicago, matter-of-factly presents the life of the students. It is a life so far removed from anything I have ever known that it’s hard to believe we live in the same country.
The kids can list the names of the gangs which control the patchwork quilt of their neighborhoods the way my daughter and the kids I know name the AYSO teams or camp clubs to which they’ve belonged. Those are the names which kids should be familiar with, not deadly organizations which control their very futures.
An officer interviewed bluntly states that there is no way for these kids to avoid allegiance to a gang. They don’t choose to join, go through initiation or pledge to a gang like a fraternity. Where you lives determines which gang you’re in, end of story. Your address determines if you are part of Face World, J-Town, Hoodville, Low Block, People & Folks, C.O.P. or D-Ville.
I had assumed that gang affiliation was a choice. I was wrong.
How can we allow this to be the reality for so many children? What does that say about us as a society? These kids are living with life and death daily. We’re so worried about our soldiers and PTSD, we should be worried about these kids. Multi-generations of kids who are growing up without a childhood.
The fact that This American Life can turn the spotlight on the situation gives me hope. Hope that change is possible. Knowledge is the first step. Listen to the show. Educate yourself. Be aware. Be concerned. Maybe you can make a difference.