The Murder of a Teen Girl in Chicago: Play for Peace Revolution

By Dr. Jane Aronson
CEO and President, WWO
Thoughts from May 21, 2016

I was in Chicago on Monday, May 16 to pitch our Element of Play (EOP) for implementation in the most violent and impoverished communities in the Chicago Public Library system which has 80 branches. Chicago Public Library is the most innovative library system in the US. They are role models for educational programs for vulnerable and at-risk children living in poverty.

The people in the room included the First Deputy Commissioner, Andrea Saenz, the Commissioner, Brian Bannon, Director of Children's Services, Elizabeth McChesney, Lori Frumkin, Senior Project Manager of Children's Services, me as CEO of WWO, my Chief of Programs, Melissa Willock, our partner, Nicole Kawell, Executive Director of Chicago Dance Institute, a pediatrician Mariana Gluzman, and Liz Tertell, who works with Fractal on curriculum for the EOP at WWO.

We were so excited and happy at the meeting. We were brainstorming revealing the underlying eagerness and passion for the children who need play to help them succeed in the future. The data from Adverse Childhood Experiences (Kaiser Permanente 1995-1997) informs us that millions of children are abused physically and sexually and those same kids are likely exposed to domestic violence and substance abusing adults. Children are hanging from a cliff and no one is stopping to notice the outrageous way in which they are treated. Violence is waiting for them around every corner.

I flew home on May 16, through the chaos of O'Hare airport, with a heart full of hope and my vision of thousands of EOPs all over the world lifted me up above any challenge that I might imagine. I could see the dream realized because others saw it with me.

Then Liz mcChesney wrote to me on Wednesday, May 18 with deep sadness about De'Kayla Dansberry who at 15 years of age was murdered by a 13 year old girl wielding a knife given to her by her mother. A fight broke out on Saturday night, May 14 at 7:30 pm, in the neighborhood where these girls lived and De'Kayla died of knife wounds to her chest.

De'Kayla was a track star, an honors student and a member of the science club at the Museum of Science and Industry. She had recently participated in an anti-violence PSA. The film club is a partnership between Museum of Science and Industry and Chicago Public Library and the kids at Coleman Library chose to write and film an anti- violence message. She frequented the Bessie Coleman Branch of the Chicago Public Library. The Chicago Public library system has love and commitment in its veins; they are devoted to service and this murder is violence against them and their vision to help the neediest kids. They dream as we all do, about peace through books and games and play.

Liz McChesney wrote me an email with a few lines from Marian Wright Edelman's poetry volume, "Guide My Feet" which she says is on her night stand.

Straighten my back
Raise my chin
That tomorrow I can begin
Again and again

Post Script

Worldwide Orphans has 37 "Elements of Play" (EOP) around the world with 10 being mobile and we are scaling this psychosocial intervention in the US to help vulnerable children be ready for school and to teach early childhood development to untrained adults in the poorest communities around the world. We want them to become teachers and create a new workforce focused on play. Our theory of change is that violence can potentially be prevented through play. We are going to teach play to adults and children and heal and prevent trauma and toxic stress. We have hard data from our EOPs abroad that supports the efficacy of our strategy.

We started an Element of Play (EOP) in the Orange Public Library in Orange, New Jersey in September 2015 and we are now looking at the library systems all over the US focusing on the most at-risk children living in dangerous communities where the need is emergent. Violence threatens the children and play could be the answer to helping people learn new ways to live in peace. Play and Peace are partners. We are going to target the most violent and traumatized cities and rural settings in the US.

Hopefully, we will be in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and everywhere....urban and rural.

Join the play for peace revolution.

Jane Aronson