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Lupe, Jonylah and Chicago violence's real toll

There's a lot to say about Lupe Fiasco's brilliant, searing, heartbreaking track "Jonylah Forever," which he released on Soundcloud three days after the shooting of 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins, whose funeral was Tuesday.

The track imagines everything Jonylah would have accomplished had she not been killed; it is an astounding piece of art, and a great example of hip-hop's ability to turn current events into music faster than any other musical genre.

But there is one element that leapt out at me as being particularly significant. It comes in the song's second verse. Lupe raps:

"Went to King where you were teased for being smart,
Where you bumped into Hadiya teaching art"

When I first listened to the track, the name "Hadiya" rocked me. On the one hand, it is a reminder of the other children Chicago has lost, a reminder that a similar song could be written about each and every one of them.

It's also a reminder of the connections between these lives, the branches that will never bloom and intersect, the seemingly insignificant events--like Hadiya Pendleton returning to King College Prep as an art teacher--that, in a different context, are blessings.

What impacted me most, though, was simply my recognition of the name "Hadiya," and my awareness that Lupe's main audience--the city of Chicago--would recognize it as well.

Back in December, after the Sandy Hook shooting, the Sun-Times ran a headline that read something like "Goodbye Noah" above an article about the burial of 6-year-old Noah Pozner. I don't remember if that was the exact headline, but that was the gist of it, and it bothered me that here in Chicago, we had learned the name of a child killed in Connecticut yet never seemed to know the names of children dying in our own city.

So it is promising that we now know at least two names: Hadiya and Jonylah.

Yes, Hadiya's story gained wider media coverage due to her connection with Barack Obama, but to me, the fact that we know Hadiya's name is more important than the reason we know it.

Hadiya was one of 12 Chicago kids under 20 years old killed in January, and while most people would not have known a reference to "Devonta" or "Ezquiel" or "Ulysses" or "Jovantay," the city of Chicago now knows the name, face and story of at least one of Chicago's dead youths. What the long-term effects of that knowledge will be, I don't know, but the city dropping a collective "Goodbye Hadiya" last month is at least hope that people will begin to examine the connective tissue that runs through our city.

And if you find yourself welling up with tears while listening to Lupe's song, or wishing there was something you could have done to help one of these children, just remember that every child in Chicago, in any community, is blossoming right now, today, at this very moment, and that each one has the potential to be the Hadiya Pendleton who teaches art at King in her 20s, or the Hadiya Pendleton mourned at King in her teens. If you feel overwhelmed or don't know where to start, this list from Time Out Chicago offers many fine ideas.

One final note: last Tuesday, the day Jonylah was pronounced dead, Lupe Fiasco tweeted: "This is why I rant! This is why I speak out! This is why I sound preachy in my songs! I have no choice!" The angst he expressed is the feeling of rage and hopelessness felt by many people the world round whose lives are dedicated to endless, uphill struggles against death, poverty and injustice.

As we remember the fallen, we should remember these people too. The people for whom tragedies aren't just dramas unfolding on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. The people who didn't need a bullet to know the name Hadiya or a song to know the name Jonylah.

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor.

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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