Inevitably, this is the first question my parents ask guests who enter their home. My parents are fluent in three languages: Korean, English, and food. They express their hospitality and generosity by feeding and sharing meals. While many find humor in the predictability, we know their preoccupation with sharing food is rooted in their experience of hunger.
As people who survived the violence of war, the trauma of being food insecure still lingers. When food is wasted, my parents grimace and share stories about how they made scarce food stretch out to feed friends and neighbors in need of support. When the food systems were destroyed and failed to get food into people’s mouths, individuals collectively responded to the community’s unmet needs as best they could.
Thankfully, my parents are economically secure and have not experienced hunger for decades. Their refrigerator is full of nutrient-rich food. They have reliable transportation for the short distance to several grocery stores. They have multiple safety nets to ensure they will not be hungry. These protective factors are interrelated and build on each other.
More and more, we recognize the social factors that determine one’s health and wellbeing. If barriers exist for regular access to healthy food, clean water, safe and affordable housing, and quality health care, then safety and security will not take root. This is universal for all of us. When residents experience multiple layers of instability, what will be the likely result?
We need to ask the same question when we talk about violence. Community violence is a public health crisis that affects all Chicago residents and disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx communities. Last year alone, 797 Chicagoans died by homicide due to gun violence—most of the victims were young Black and Latinx men. Additionally, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further destabilized our region, particularly communities of color, only to add strain to communities in need of support.
If we apply a public health lens in responding to the crisis of violence, we need to examine the conditions that allow it to exist in the first place. Why are there disparities in safety across our region? Why is violence disproportionately impacting young men of color? Are the essential needs for food, housing, and health care being met to establish sustained safety and security? Do clear paths for economic stability and mobility exist? Are there adequate safeguards to ensure that anyone experiencing trauma can get the support they need to become more stable?
The same communities experiencing high rates of homicides due to gun violence are the same communities that lag in the rates of COVID-19 vaccinations across the region. These same communities lack quality, affordable housing and pathways to homeownership. When we take a closer look at neighborhood investments, it is predominantly Black and Latinx communities that lack robust public transportation infrastructure and retail hubs that build wealth. This is not a coincidence. This is a direct result of disinvestment, bad public policy, and fractured systems.
And while violence is complex and interconnected, I am still hopeful that we can prevent and end it together. The Trust supports the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities by funding scalable, community-led strategies to decrease gun violence. We work closely with the Illinois Justice Project as they lead statewide reforms in housing policy to create more stable housing options for people leaving incarceration. The Trust will continue to partner with community-based organizations working on potential solutions to this crisis.
Hurt people hurt people; healing people heal people. This is the same at the community level. I return to my parents’ compulsion to feed others. My parents don’t ask, “Why haven’t you eaten?” They do not blame the individual experiencing hunger but rather get them stable before pursuing anything else. I apply these same principles in addressing the root causes of violence. With radical hospitality, a term used by sociologist Reuben Jonathan Miller, we can heal our community and ensure all Chicagoans have access to the abundant opportunities in our beloved city.