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Ask a poet/volunteer at Open Books if the pen is mightier than the sword

Open Books Bookstore
Open Books

Our cities are awash in crime.

The news is frightfully bad on an individual and sociological level. The police, as intrepid as they are, react to crime as it occurs. Police scanners, accessible to anyone on the internet, tell only a part of the story although there is one persistently undeniable fact. Black males between 17-25 years of age account for an alarmingly high percentage of daily arrestees in Chicago.

I call attention to this fact because I have neither heard (about) nor seen anyone shouting out ‘When is this catastrophe going to stop and how?' Or do we permit this to happen because we are mired in such deep cynicism that to "write off" yet another generation of black youth doesn't seem to trouble us in the least?

Empowering police to take the offensive against "gangbangers" would very likely fly in the face of our constitutional imperative that the "rule of law” be upheld. Having to adhere to strict procedures, American law requires police to follow the law in order to enforce it.

Recall before your voice becomes too strident that aversion to unrestrained police power strikes at the very bedrock upon which traditional American liberty rests. Open your old American history book and refresh your memory about the years prior to the War for American Independence (1776) and, in particular, the British measures the "soon to be Americans" found most irksome-that is, contrary to what they thought to be their "natural rights".

Remember the Quartering Act of 1763? A British law requiring the “colonials”-as the English delighted in calling the American subjects of King George-to open their homes to occupying English soldiers. Remember them, do you? You know, the "Redcoats" who wore those splendid red jackets even in battle. His Majesty's Fleet transported them across the Atlantic Ocean. Armed with muskets and attached bayonet their numbers far exceeded those who first "fired the shot heard around the world."

"Welcome to Open Books! We're thrilled to have you as part of our mission to transform lives through reading, writing, and the ENDLESS power of used books.

Drawing upon the selfless tradition of volunteerism in a city remembered for its stunning juxtaposition of the Chicago Housing Authority's (CHA) Cabrini-Green Housing Project and Chicago's Near North Side Gold Coast, Open Books, located at 213 W. Institute Place, Chicago, IL, 60610 on the city’s near north side, operates a wondrous book store whose inventory (70,000 titles) features a special collection for young readers. Oh, by the way, the price is right starting as low as one dollar per book.

When I first visited this fabulous bookstore, a sizable group of school kids was leaving the store just as I was about to enter. I held the door open for them. Must have been at least seventy-five kids between two school buses and every one of them smilingly said, "Thank you very much, sir." I kid you not. 'These kids have either been well taught by parents and teachers,' I thought to myself 'or this bookstore is a special place indeed.'

Turns out to have been both.

Whenever our schools fail to educate our youth, they become persons of interest to the "gangbangers" as well as to the police.

Am I saying there exists a direct one to one causal relationship between "mis-educated" youth and criminality? No, but I am suggesting there is a linkage between them that cannot be dismissed as a statistical aberration or sociological fluke.

There is an answer to this mess though it has one “drawback”; it requires of a young person more personal courage and integrity than you’ll find among the whole lot of "bangers".

To our young people I say, "Seize this opportunity to which your future is attached."

Open Books seeks to release the creative spirit of hope that naturally resides within youngsters by teaching them a love of books and reading, the spoken and written word, both prose and poetry, and the art of writing toward the goal of becoming a published author.

'The art of writing too! Sounds so glamorous?'

Perhaps for a few, but for all writers-whether published or not yet-it all comes down to “sitzfleisch”-The ability to endure or persist in an endeavor through sedentary determination. A borrowing from Yiddish or German, it literally means "sit-flesh"; a comparable English idiom might be "chair glue."

Educate. Educate our young people while they are still malleable, before the gangs rob them of their innocence and souls. Join the enthusiastic staff and literacy volunteers at Open Books in reinforcing the good work of the many Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers and educators dedicated to today’s youth for tomorrow’s future.

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