Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Chicago's violence took my dad, friends

By Tenisha Taylor Bell, Special to CNN
updated 9:29 PM EST, Fri February 15, 2013
Tenisha Bell's mother and father Velma and Ezekiel Taylor. Bell's father was shot and killed in Chicago when she was 5.
Tenisha Bell's mother and father Velma and Ezekiel Taylor. Bell's father was shot and killed in Chicago when she was 5.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama's visit to Chicago brings attention to city's extreme gun violence
  • Tenisha Bell grew up on South Side; her dad and two friends were shot and killed there
  • Bell worked hard at school, fled Chicago and will never live in her hometown again
  • Bell credits her mom for her success; says kids need education, mentors, jobs

Editor's note: Tenisha Bell is an executive producer at CNN and president of the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists.

(CNN) -- President Obama is visiting my hometown of Chicago -- the city I hate to love.

The president's visit focuses attention on gun violence, and comes soon after the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old who was shot down in Chicago after participating in the president's inauguration festivities.

I know way too much about urban gun violence; three people I love were shot and killed, like Hadiya, on Chicago's streets.

Tenisha Taylor Bell
Tenisha Taylor Bell

I grew up on the South Side in the late '70s and early '80s. I was very young, but I recall the evening of my dad's death vividly. We had a green phone mounted on our kitchen wall. One night as my mom and I were sleeping in her bed, the phone rang. My mom awoke and went to the kitchen to answer.

She leaned against the wall, that green phone in her hand, with a look of despair and horror as her sister-in-law told her the news.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The Chicago police then banged on the door, saying, "We just found your husband dead." At that moment our lives changed. Chicago's ruthless streets had stolen my father. Ezekiel Taylor was shot and killed in a robbery, on his way home from church. He died four minutes away from the house where Michelle Obama grew up.

And so my mother, Velma, was left to raise me in a single parent household. Without her husband's income, she struggled to keep me in private school and extra curricular activities -- from ballet, to tap, to flute lessons, to drum lessons. Her sacrifice can never be repaid. She taught me how to be a survivor, and imparted strong values, standards and morals.

Chicago's record murder rate: Don't blame guns alone

She also taught me the lesson of forgiveness. I forgive the two men and woman who killed my father because you can't go forward if you don't.

In high school, my great friend and honorary "big brother" died in the same street violence. Ron Hollister was intelligent, upstanding, funny and a good student . He was gunned down in a robbery on a summer day when he was home from his freshman year at college. He had gone to get his car washed.

Chicago's gun violence: Can Obama help?
Chicago's 500th homicide this year
National politics cloud teen's funeral
Pendletons: Hadiya was bubbly, funny

As a senior in high school, I vowed to get out of Chicago, to escape the pain and tragedy. I worked hard and landed a full four year scholarship to Clark Atlanta University. I never looked back.

But in March of 2010, Chicago reached me in Atlanta with another horrifying phone call. My grade school buddy Steven Lee -- kind, funny and generous -- was leaving his birthday party and was caught in the crossfire of two gangs. Steven was killed by a stray bullet and his killer was never captured. To add to the tragedy for his family, his older brother was a Chicago police officer who was killed in the line of duty in August 2001.

My hometown is a war zone. Too many innocent children and young adults have died. Chicago police reported that 506 people were murdered in the city in 2012, about 16% more than 2011. Compare that with the fact that 310 American troops were killed in Afghanistan in 2012.

Chicagoans can be proud and hopeful that our president is going to the city to bring attention to this epidemic of violence. Too many mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of murder victims have been suffering for too long.

Leaders like Chicago Police Commissioner Garry McCarthy and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel need to figure out why murder rates in cities like New York and Los Angeles are plummeting while Chicago's continues to soar.

My view: How we talk about guns in my Chicago classroom

And parents, religious leaders, teachers and community organizers also need to help take back the streets.

The city needs an action plan to save innocent people from becoming victims like Ronnie, Steven and Hadiya. It needs more community centers to offer a safe haven and alternative to gang banging for kids. Young people need direction and mentors -- people like my mother, who instilled in me the values you need to rise above the challenges of poverty and despair.

I love Chicago because it made me who I am. It has the best pizza, a great skyline, gorgeous Lake Michigan, museums and a diversity of cultures on every corner. Obama called it home. It gave us Oprah, Michael Jordan, Nobel Prize winning author Saul Bellow -- and the great University of Chicago. It gave us Michelle Obama, who was also raised on the South Side.

But it's the city I hate to love, and I won't go back -- especially now that I'm raising a son. I don't want to lose him to the streets of Chicago.

I hope President Obama's visit will inspire the city to save itself, so young people in the future will feel they can live and raise a family in the city they love.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tenisha Bell.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT