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Voices from the West Side: Melissa Chrusfield

The 39-year-old mother in East Garfield Park asks why all Chicagoans aren’t paying attention to the public health crisis on the West Side.

Melissa Chrusfield (left) with her daughter   Photos: Sebastián Hidalgo

Age: 39
Lives in: East Garfield Park
With: 13-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son
Grew up in: Galesberg, Illinois
Currently: Event planner and member of the West Side Total Health Collaborative’s planning committee

It makes me almost laugh to myself that people act like gun violence is this huge puzzle that can’t be undone. There are neighborhoods in the city where gun violence isn’t huge: What kind of schools do their kids go to? How are they fed? What do they do after school? Then, look at the kids in the neighborhood school where there is gun violence: What do their lives look like? We can’t imagine what we could do differently?

When we first moved [to Chicago] … it was like a nightmare. I could not wrap my mind around the fact that there are kids in our nation that go to schools like this. We need to hold our communities and our city and state accountable for where they have failed these children, and education is a huge part of that.

My daughter dances ballet and so spends a lot of time at Hubbard Street and Ruth Page in Old Town. And the programming that these kids are in that she interacts with, like piano and chess and ballet, all these things that are available to them because they have money. It’s just not here. We just don’t have those options and even if you do have money, you have to go out of your neighborhood to do those things.

Our West Side doesn’t need to improve by white people moving in and businesses following them. That’s not winning. Our winning is if we give the people who are already here the resources to have abundant life, where they have the freedom to have the opportunities that other people have.

Let’s just give it a freaking shot. Let’s give these people some resources and see if they might want to use them, you know? Let’s treat them like humans.

There are kids that are physically hungry on the West Side and on the South Side and the fact that that doesn’t really, really bother people blows my mind. It scares me and it makes me sad. How dare you look at my kid and not want as much for my kid as you want for your own child? How dare you?

If you go upstairs [in the Lawndale Christian Health Center], the conference room has a full skyline view. It’s like we can see them and they can probably in their high rises see us, but our kids can’t reach there and they would never come here.

There’s so much beauty and potential here. Try to look for the beauty. Don’t just take what the media says off the top. Because, really, it could work both ways. If everyone here on the West Side took stereotypes about the people in the North Side, Gold Coast, and the suburbs, or even, not just stereotypes, actual interactions, and I assigned that one interaction with someone from the suburbs to everyone from the suburbs, I would never go to the suburbs again. So just try to acknowledge the humanity of other people.

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