Proud to Call Austin Home!
The Chicago Tribune front page article of July 16, (Austin population drops to No. 2 in city for 1st time in 45 years) told the story of the struggle in the Austin neighborhood and the resulting loss of population there. There is nothing untrue in Marwa Eltagouri’s writing: the poverty, the violence, and the unemployment are endemic in the area and have been for decades.
As the president of St. Angela School, I can testify to everything the writer said: these things are all so true. But I’d like to underscore the truths that the average reader might not have absorbed as easily because they are not the truths of the nightly news.
“In a neighborhood as large as Austin, each block can be its own world.” Austin includes many blocks filled with people who raise their children in their own homes, who know and care for neighbors, and who help their children with homework. It is home to community gardens, and to involved citizens who are committed to helping more blocks become “good” blocks.
“It's a hopeful mentality that many Austin residents still carry. Because despite the rise in gun violence, Austin is still home.” Many of our students are the second or even third generation to be enrolled at St. Angela. They are part of families whose connections to the community run deep and wide; connections that make a strong neighborhood.
“We have blocks in the community that look like suburbs. Quiet, with block clubs and families that protect each other." We’re very fortunate at St. Angela School is in such a neighborhood—but we also believe that it is partly the faith that families have placed in us that makes our neighborhood so stable.
St. Angela School has served the children of the Austin neighborhood for nearly one hundred years and receives the generous support of friends and alumni who believe in our mission and are also committed to strengthening our community. It is understandable that many who live here feel that the city has “turned its back” on them but we who believe in the future of these families and in the importance of our role in securing that future, will never willingly turn our back.
Like Ms. Rover, a resident who was mentioned in the story, we, too are “proud to call Austin our home.”
Sr. Maryellen Callahan, RSM
President, St. Angela School
P.S. We hope you will take a few minutes to read the beautiful poem we've included on the right. It speaks to this very same need to look beyond the headlines and see resilience and possibility. The poem was not written about an event in Austin, and we are fortunate that this level of violence is not occurring in our immediate neighborhood, but we share Mr. Martinez-Pompa's belief that we must be aware of "a narrative...which isn't untrue but isn't complete."
The elder man’s eyes tell a story
his mouth is reluctant to share,
but the trees that line his block go talking,
up and down the entire city:
not if they will see death
but when. Not if leaves will fall,
but how quickly.
It is true— last night, on this block,
a young man caught a bullet
behind his eye. He will live
but carry lead until some future light
when his soul is pulled skyward,
into the next song of life and death.
Yes, last night, bullets let loose
toward a stoop of young men, neighbors
froze behind windows, police
hung yellow tape and tripods held up
cameras hungry for death.
Yes, it happened here, last night.
But today, there is a tree that needs to be climbed.
There is a front lawn that needs to be cut.
There are dogs that need to be walked up and down
the sidewalk and that
is what’s breathing here now.
Today it’s back to work & play.
Some place else, there is a frame, a longing
for trends that turn the people against the people.
We’ve been trained into a narrative
of blood, which isn’t untrue but isn’t
complete. This is a block too alive for framework.
It is lined with brick homes who stand
prouder than lead, and children
who need no lessons in how to be
children, and elders who walk a line
between saying and not saying until their dreams
sing into fruition. This is a gathering
of the living and the working and the playing and the dying.
They are what move this city, every day,
beyond the framework that bends truth,
beneath the trees that don’t.
"Framework" appeared originally as part of the WBEZ series Every Other Hour, a project exploring new ways of looking at weekend violence in our city. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of poet Paul Martinez-Pompa and WBEZ.