Amidst the bad news this Thanksgiving, I thought you might enjoy an inspiring story from Chicago’s inner city. Rhiana Gunn-Wright was among the 32 Americans who recently was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, where she plans to study comparative welfare policies. She has observed that U.S. welfare policies end up “punishing“ poor people. What is remarkable about this young lady is not that she graduated magna cum laude from Yale University, or that she graduated first at the prestigious Illinois Math and Science Academy, but that Rhiana overcame overwhelming odds for her success. She grew up in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood. For my readers who are unfamiliar with the Englewood community in Chicago, it is located on the southwest side of Chicago. Englewood is small (about three square miles), and had only 30,000 residents in 2010. Beginning with its early history, it has been a place of violence (Dr. H. H. Holmes, one of the first publicized serial murderers in America, did his crimes in Englewood). Englewood has an official poverty rate of 44%, which is substantially higher than in other parts of Chicago. The area’s official unemployment rate is 35%. The Englewood crime rates are among the highest in the nation, with murder, assaults, robbery, burglary, narcotics trafficking, and other serious crimes occurring most days. During 2011, Englewood had the dubious distinction of having more murders than any other police district in Chicago. This is stunning in a community of 30,000. Ironically, it is also the most heavily policed neighborhood in Chicago.
In the midst of this difficult situation, Rihana was quoted recently in the Chicago Sun-Times, “Personally, [Englewood] makes me sad; one, that the violence is happening. But two, people make Englewood sound like the ‘Seven Circles of Hell,’ and it is not. There are families and friends there, and people still care about each other. There are still honor and sun and light and not always darkness.” She attributes her success to her schools, but also to her mother.
On this Thanksgiving, as we celebrate the blessings bestowed on each of us from a loving God, let us also rejoice with Rihana that the human spirit is stronger than the forces of darkness. Kudos, Rihana, to you and to your Mother, Karen Gunn! Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!