The pain of violence and Elijah Sims

Brendan Carew, Managing Editor

I never met Elijah Sims.  

I don’t know a lot about who he was.

But when I learned about the death of my peer, I thought of all he could have been.

I don’t mean what he could have been if he hadn’t been killed, because that’s too pessimistic.  I thought of how he could have been the kid that held the door for me or helped me pick up the papers I dropped in the hallway. He could have been the kid sitting at the lunch table next to me, the one whose laughter was so contagious.

Although I didn’t know him, I know he was part of our community. Our beautiful, diverse, welcoming community.

As I stood in Scoville Park at the candlelight vigil held in Scoville Park the evening of Aug. 31, listening to people speak who were lucky enough to know Sims, I too wanted to go up to the stage and say what was in my heart.

But I realized I had to take a step back and witness a community of love and support. A community built around Elijah and his joy, his jokes, and his spirit.

The tragedy of his murder has allowed me to see the greatest flaw of our great OPRF community. Many fail to acknowledge that an epidemic is running rampant just a few miles from where we are.

When I say epidemic, I mean it in its most literal sense. Violence is a sickness. Why do we let this disease take so many lives if it is happening so close to us?

Some may say it’s because we are ignorant.

I believe that is both right and wrong.

They are wrong because we know the facts about this problem, we see the headlines, statistics, and names of the victims. We see them on the news, on the internet, everywhere.

We can see it’s more than a problem.

It’s a catastrophe. The facts are jaw-dropping. Chicago has recorded more than 500 murders so far this year; more than New York City and the city of Los Angeles combined. Chicago’s murder rate is nearly four times the national average.

We are ignorant because the headlines, statistics, and names are just that; they seem to not be enough to force people to take action or really support those suffering. They are words and numbers we see on a screen or on paper, but they aren’t real to us. We live in a place where we don’t have to deal with violence the way our neighboring community does, so as a result, the problem is not real to us.  

The murder of Elijah Sims is a wake-up call to reality. A member of our community was killed by the sickness that is violence. Since we in Oak Park live in a generally safe community, it would be quite easy to press the snooze button on this wake-up call.  We could turn Sims into  another headline, another statistic, another name.  And by pressing that snooze button the problem would go back to not being real to us.

I know I’ll never fully understand how real this problem is because I don’t have to wake up and fear I may be shot and killed at any time. To gain a better understanding on how real it is, I attended the candlelight vigil. I needed to do so, so I could see the pain in the faces of Sims’ friends and family, so I could know how real Elijah Sims was, how real the pain his family feels is, and how real this problem is.

I needed this additional wake-up call because I don’t want to press the snooze button.

I want to get up from my cushy life and take action.

I want to stand with all those affected by this tragedy, and I want to stand up to the sickness of violence.

When I attended the vigil I was affected in a way more powerful than I could have  ever imagined. I saw the tears, I heard the cries, I felt the pain, and it all made the problem real. But I saw more than suffering and I learned more than how horrifying the real problem is. I learned  Elijah was that kid with the contagious laugh and the loving heart. I saw a beautiful community of people whose lives were touched by Elijah; from family and friends who loved him to classmates he left an impression on with his laughter. They spoke about how we mustn’t forget the joy Elijah brought into our community and we must take action to ensure his death is not the norm.

It may seem a small thing, but we must try to model the community Elijah built in everything we do. We must work to build communities that create a sense of joy and love in the people in them, the way Elijah did.

The way we can begin to fight the seemingly insurmountable problem of violence is with a strong, joyful, loving community. If this is our mission, it needs to stretch beyond OPRF. Austin Blvd is not where our community ends, our love and support must carry over because we are all one community. I urge you to not press the snooze button, to wake up every morning and remember the power you have to stand up to the sickness of violence, by sharing laughter and spreading loving in our great community.

A truly loving community, one embracing all, has the power to quell the problem of violence.