The look of Roseland, Chicago is a quite the contradiction to it’s name. As one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, many of its residents rarely venture outside, choosing to stay behind locked doors and bolted windows. Rather than barricading her door like her neighbors, Diane Latiker prefers to keep it prompt open, welcoming in local gang members into her living room. Since 2003, Latiker has been running a nonprofit organization, Kids Off the Block, that offers children support and a place to go.
Latiker’s story is like many of the children she now serves. Dropping out of high school and having seven children by the age of 25, she turned her life around by pursuing her GED and getting remarried. Surrounded by her own children, Latiker began to reach out to local neighborhood children, giving them a comfortable place to eat, do homework or just hang out.
As her program grew, Latiker began investing more of her own time into the 24/7 organization. The young adolescents were taken on field trips and given tutoring sessions that encouraged the importance of school as well as increasing their own self-confidence. Eventually, the organization grew so large that Latiker bought another building for extracurricular activities. Latiker began seeing these young people turn their lives around, striving for more than they had ever imagined. Many of them went on to not only graduate from high school, but from higher education as well.
At last, Chicago’s young people are no longer separated by gang association and violence. As Latiker stated to CNN, “it doesn’t matter where they come from, what they’ve done,” Latiker said. “We’ve had six gangs in my living room at one time. … But that was the safe place. And you know what? They respected that”.
Gang violence, as well as any means of bullying, is a very real issue in many of today’s schools. The main objective of many educators is to keep kids off the streets and find alternative means for them to spend their time. By redirecting lives into education, sports and extracurricular activities, young adolescents change their focus and are more likely to excel in their chosen interests. Present the video on Kids Of The Block to your class and have them discuss the strategies implemented in the program to encourage the success of Chicago’s young people. Because bullying is an everyday occurance for many young people, present students with a single objective that focuses on this issue. What does a school need to do to prevent bullying? If you had to create a program that addressed school violence (bullying, gang violence), what would it entail? Give students time to view Latiker’s website that goes into detail about her program’s goals and accomplishments.
Building rapport with the young people of Chicago is no easy feat. Latiker opted to create a rap video to get her message across. Ask your students how they could send the message to end violence: write a poem, write letters to the editor of a popular paper, create posters to post not only in school but at local restaurants and bus stops as well.
As an educator, how do you eliminate bullying in your classroom?
More than just a school issue, violence occurs every day at all hours. Where do you decide your role as a teacher ends and your role as an active citizen begins? How much can you really enter students’ lives as they leave after that final bell?
Ask your students the very same questions and what they feel is best. Where do you think a teacher’s role should end in regards to school violence? To encourage student investment, have them listen to Latiker’s own talk radio about ending school violence. What do you agree with and what do you think needs to be changed?
Latiker is proof that the overwhelming issue of gang violence is more that can be tackled by one person. But all it takes it one person to try.
“Our young people need help…all of them are not gang-bangers. All of them are not dropouts. But the ones that are, they need our help. Somehow or another, something ain’t right here. And why don’t we ask them about it?”