This is Still Toronto

WILL RUTLEDGE

            This is not the Toronto Star or the Globe or the Sun. It is not my journalistic duty to tell you all about the real world. I should be writing about how we donít have a senior football team, or how the construction outside is progressing, how the student council is probably broke, or how everyone privileged enough to afford such a service hates the new Facebook, or perhaps I should be entertaining you with an angry rant about the condition of the school. But, Iím not going to.

            Instead, Iíve written something about this city. We all live in it, but few of us LIVE it. I have yet to live it at all. Iíve only reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this place, and I probably never will understand it. In fact, fifteen of the eighteen years that make up my life have been spent living in the same neighborhood: a white collar area with blue collar families sprinkled throughout. Very few of the cityís 50 plus homicides have occurred on my front step. Therefore, murder isnít what Iím here to write about.        

            Iím going to spin you a journalistic tale, experienced firsthand, of my journey into the heart of the inner city. But my question must come first: how many of the students at this school care? Too many, I feel, will turn away from this article that is probably buried behind the muse, just before sports. Too many will say, ďSo what?Ē and move on. Because if it isnít about the school and if isnít about you, why care?

            This isnít a funny article, and it isnít filled with little stolen inside jokes from online videos. Instead, it is about the cheek society has turned on too many young kids in Toronto. Rexdale is a community not many of us at North Toronto are familiar with, and those who are have my full respect. It is a community once known to be the home of a gang of local Crips. Some of you may remember the 106 gang members arrested there a summer or two back. Some of you may remember the movie based on the Jamestown neighborhood called Doomstown. Those few of you also have my full respect.      

            I was there this summer for a total of three weeks and saw more of anything than Iíd seen in the previous eighteen years. I saw kids who, in a community with low expectations for its youth, are exceeding those expectations because of a simple program run by a few educators.  The program was set up to help the so called ďat-risk youthĒ with their reading, writing and socialization skills while  using basketball to appeal to them.

            It doesnít take long to see the anger in some of the kidsí eyes. They know what theyíre expected to be and they know itís the adults that set those expectations. It is the anger that comes from being ignored. All it takes is a quick look around the school to understand that it is in a state of neglect. And yet when the bullets fly, we put sole blame on the one who pulled the trigger.  

            Itís hard to tell an 11-year-old that anger isnít the answer when he sees the opposite every day; that he canít resort to violence over a basketball foul. The truth is, these kids arenít as out of reach as theyíre made out to be. If I, a 17-year-old student, can look one in the eye and tell him he has a choice to be the bad guy or the good guy, anyone can do it. Any teacher, youth worker, or just ordinary person can assure these kids their fate isnít so sealed. They just need to know that doing right or wrong is a choice we can make everyday and that they arenít left behind.  When these youth are at their last straw, theyíll pick whatever is available, because there is no bailout coming. They take whatís offered to them, and itís often the drug trade, an institute that has long been rooted in the depths of urban society and has been the cause of a ďwarĒ that only accumulates casualties; the bodies of the same youth I worked with in the gym of a Rexdale school this summer. 

            Some might ask where are the politicians, or the police, or the media? When Jane Creba was shot outside a downtown shopping center in the heart of Toronto, the reaction was immediate: politicians, police, and media alike hopped to it. The same thing happens to a Rexdale youth, and a couple detectives quietly work their scene, and a lone reporter takes notes.

            Weíre far too quick to dismiss these kids as lost causes. Theyíre only eight years old, but theyíre already a ďlost causeĒ. But, the truth is, there isnít a lot to be done except work these summer programs. This article may enlighten you, but one day itíll be in a blue box. There isnít much a reporter or wannabe reporter like myself can do except remind you that while youíre reading about someoneís summer in Greece, there have been 50 homicides in this city so far. While a far cry from the 353 in Baltimore in 1993 and the over 600 in Detroit in the early 1990s, it is still a number that shouldnít be.    

            Instead of ignoring these kids, embrace them, show them that they are not forgotten. They see everyday that theyíre to be ignored. They see it in the headlines, in the condition of their schools, and on television. And finally, while this may just be Graffiti, in my eyes, this is still a newspaper, and this is still Toronto.