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Little victories can turn Chicago’s image around

Most of us have read about it and seen clips on the nightly news. Images of children dying because they just happen to be in the crossfire of feuding gangs are heartbreaking. And we can’t seem to hide from the violence. Our new president seems to tweet about Chicago’s shootings every other day.

Of course, we know Chicago has to come to grip with this endless violence. But it is also important to point out to critics–including the current president–that the majority of these shootings are in a few neighborhoods on the city’s South Side and West Side.

Of course, we know Chicago will be the focus of some jokes. On the Weekend Update segment on “Saturday Night Live” this past week, Colin Jost mentioned that Chicago has had no snow during the month of January and February. And then he added the zinger: “Because all the snowflakes were shot down before they reached the ground.”

But all kidding aside, the city has a lot to offer. Right now, Chicago has nine different TV shows being filmed in and around the downtown area. The stage production of “Hamilton” has also made it to Chicago. In sports, the Chicago Blackhawks are red hot and will compete for another Stanley Cup. The Hawks have already won three Stanley Cups during this decade. And unless you have been living under a rock, we all know the Chicago Cubs are World Series champions for the first time in 108 years.

The lakefront along the North Shore to the South Shore is a beautiful sight and perhaps a surprise to visitors who first witness it. The downtown area includes Cloudgate, or the “Bean,” Buckingham Fountain and the Magnificent Mile.

I was thinking about all that when I attended a St. Patrick’s Day party on Saturday night at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Chicago’s Washington Heights neighborhood. I graduated from the school at 9837 S. Throop St. and lived a couple a blocks away from there. I’ve been attending the event consistently over the past 10 years or so. I will meet one of my brothers and sister and attend Mass before the event. As the service concludes, members of the Chicago Stock Yard Kilty Band make their way up the aisles of the old church, playing their bagpipes and drums.

We follow them out the door and across the parking lot, entering the nearby gym. Since this is a pre-St. Patrick’s Day bash, there was corned beef, potatoes and as a surprise, lasagna. The Chicago Stock Yard Kilty Band performed again, along with a choir from Marist High School.

St. Margaret of Scotland School, like many Chicago-area Catholic schools, has had to endure lower enrollment issues and budget concerns. A lot has changed since when I went there in the 1960s in the midst of the baby boomer generation. We had 150 kids in our graduating class. The neighborhood in the 1960s was mainly Irish Catholic. Today the parish is almost exclusively African American.

But the annual St. Patrick’s Day party is a link to the parish’s past and a major fundraiser. The school has also received assistance from Big Shoulders, Catholic Charities and other organizations. The parish has also started an annual golf outing that draws many graduates and friends of St. Margaret’s. This is another way in which St. Margaret graduates can get together and have some fun while raising money for the school.

This appears to be working. Kevin Powers, the current principal at St. Margaret’s, said that a few years ago, the school had an enrollment of 150 students. Powers said that currently St. Margaret’s has an enrollment of 223. School officials are confident those enrollment figures will rise even further.

Powers and the organizers of events held at the school and for the parish deserve a lot of the credit. But it also got me thinking that with creative thinking and hard work, anything is possible. Chicago is a great city but sometimes we all need help.

I thought of the crime and the violence that is too prevalent. What needs to be done is to offer more opportunities for individuals in these neighborhoods. In the case of Trump, instead of tweeting about Chicago’s violence, sit down and meet with local public officials and developers and see what can be done. Trump said he wants to pour money into infrastructure to improve U.S. cities. Chicago would be a good start.

But it begins with little victories like what is going on at St. Margaret’s. That’s how it can begin.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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