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Building Safe and Healthy Communities

Secretary Arne Duncan's Remarks at City Hall in Chicago


In recent weeks America has seen a side of Chicago that we all wish didn't exist. The graphic video of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert being fatally beaten is terrifying, heartbreaking and tragic. It shocks the conscience.

This bright and happy young honor student had his whole life ahead of him – but now it has been cut short by senseless violence.

I came here yesterday at the direction of the President not to place blame on anyone but to join with Chicago and with communities across America in taking responsibility for this death and the deaths of so many other young people over the years.

People like Blair Holt, Starkeisha Reed, Dantrell Davis – and dozens of others over the years here in Chicago were victims of a society that has somehow lost its way – and allowed too many of our children to devalue life.

Somehow, many of our young people have lost faith in the future. They've been denied the love, support and guidance they need – and have grown up believing that their life is not worth anything – so no one else's life is worth anything either.

It is difficult to love when you have never been shown love. It is difficult to build a positive future when you don't think you will live past the age of 18.

There are problems we cannot solve with just money or by pointing fingers at each other or by looking the other way. We must engage directly with our children – starting at the youngest age.

We must engage with them at every stage of their lives – and teach them that violence doesn't solve anything and that respect for others is the foundation of a safe and healthy society.

It's an important lesson that every parent, teacher, and every adult needs to understand so they can pass it on to young people – whether it's their own children or someone else's.

Every adult shares this responsibility. Every adult needs to connect – because all children need adults in their lives. It starts with parents but it always continues with others – teachers, coaches, mentor, and friends.

I came here today not merely out of sadness – but with hope and compassion for our children. I came here because I believe in Chicago's capacity to deal with this openly, honestly and directly.

This is my home — the city where I grew up — where I played ball and tutored children in a church basement on the south side. My friends are here. My family is here. I learned everything I know in these communities and in these schools.

And I learned about character. This is the city that never gives up when it is challenged. This is the city that always unites in the face of adversity.

This is the city that has produced great leaders and thinkers – a great Mayor and America's first Black President — men and women who are shaping the future and giving real meaning to words like courage, strength, and pride.

Chicago won't be defined by this incident but rather by our response to it – so I came here today to join with you and with communities all across America to call for a national conversation on values.

It's a conversation that should happen in every city in America where violence, intolerance, and discrimination exists.

Chicago is not unique: four students have been killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma already this year. Philadelphia, Seattle, and Miami and many rural communities have also lost schoolchildren to violence in recent weeks.

And the cost goes far beyond the immediate victims and their families. When kids are fearful they can't learn – and if they can't learn then we are all at risk because our future depends on the quality of education we give our children.

This morning, the Attorney General and I started the conversation with Mayor Daley and with faith and community leaders. We talked with elected officials and school officials. We also met with Fenger students and parents and the principal.

We plan to go to other cities to meet and talk with people and find ways to protect our children.

I'm committed to this fight. I'm committed to this cause. And I promise to work as long as necessary to rid our country of this plague.

I also told CPS officials that the Department of Education is planning to give an emergency grant to help restore the learning environment at Fenger.

They can use the money as they choose – for counselors or extended day or student development activities. The money is not just for Fenger—but for the schools that feed into Fenger as well.

But this is not about the money. Money alone will never solve this problem. It's much deeper than that. It's about our values. It's about who we are a society.

And it's about taking responsibility for our young people to teach them what they need to know to live side-by-side and deal with their differences without anger or violence. They must learn to love themselves and each other.

Every one of us must take responsibility for this. To those who seek to lay blame on anyone else, I challenge you to ask first what you have done.

This is the time to look in our collective mirror and ask whether we like what we see or whether we can do better together.

I challenge every parent, community leader, and adult to step up and join this conversation. I challenge our students to sit down with each other.

I challenge our students to sit down with each other to talk and listen and to debate and come together to create the action we need.

The first responsibility of a healthy society is to find common ground and work together toward our common good.

That's what made America. That's what made Chicago. And that's what it will take for communities across this country to bring an end to the violence that has taken the lives of so many smart, gifted and talented young people.

I am forever grateful for all that Chicago has offered me. I was deeply honored to serve this Mayor. I am deeply honored to serve this President.

Above all, I am honored to serve the people of Chicago and America — and today I ask for your hand in partnership as we work together to raise our children safely, to enable them to grow up free of fear, to educate them, and to allow them to fulfill their dreams. As fathers, this is what we all want for our children.

Thank you.



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