By Melanie Zanona
10:30 AM CDT, May 1, 2013
I attended high school in Chicago's upper-class Lincoln Park neighborhood, surrounded by brownstone mansions and designer boutiques.
Though I was no stranger to the concept of violence-- we went through metal detectors and had police officers on staff at Lincoln Park High School--I never thought that one of my classmates, Frankie Valencia, would be brutally shot and killed by a gangbanger outside of a Halloween party.
And I definitely couldn't have imagined that one of his best friends, Ricky Pike, another classmate of ours, would also be senselessly lost to gun violence just three years later.
Frankie didn't fit the stereotype of a "typical" gun murder victim. He grew up in Jefferson Park, just a few blocks away from me. He was an honors student at DePaul, where he was active on the campus community, received multiple awards and nominations, and campaigned for President Obama and the concept of "Change." Even the details of his death were atypical: he was shot in front of a $2 million home in a neighborhood we often frequented in our teenage years.
While it might be difficult to wrap our heads around stories like Frankie, or Hadiya Pendleton, or the children of Newtown, they are important stories for society to hear and for journalists to tell, because they prove that gun violence is not just an isolated incident.
In fact, we only disadvantage ourselves when we think, "I don't look like that, I don't live there, and I'm not a gangbanger, so this could never happen to me."
But even if it is a gang member who is murdered, what makes their life any less valuable than someone like Frankie? Since when does society get to choose which lives are worth saving?
Almost every story on murder immediately clarifies whether the incident was "gang-related" or not, as if the former allows us to breathe a sigh of relief and take solace in knowing that it "won't happen to us."
The truth is, when violence strangles even just a segment of the community, it affects all of us. And if it could happen to someone like Frankie, it could happen to anyone.
As a lifelong Chicagoan, I know this city is worth a whole lot more than the national headlines it has been producing lately. So let's stand together in the face of violence and turn those headlines into something Frankie would be proud of.
Melanie Zanona is a RedEye special contributor.
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