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 2:12 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
updated 5:24 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
updated 7:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
updated 7:50 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 7:00 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
updated 4:31 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT