By Kaylah Jackson
Ta’Rhonda Jones, who appears as Porsha Taylor in the television series “Empire,” is not only an actress but a Chicago native and a Simeon alumna. She has made it a personal goal to lower the gun violence rates in her home city by hosting events such as the “Game On to Prevent Gun Violence” community basketball game.
“I want to get everyone involved especially the community to get these bad gun dealers off the streets,” said Jones who hosted Saturday’s event, which featured the high-energy style of 14-year-old musician DJ Young 1. “ I went here. I want to get the community together to have fun and go back because this is my home.”
Jones joined Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett, Gabourey Sidibie and other cast members who drew more than 1,000 students and families to the South Side for a basketball game featuring the Empire Casts, to raise awareness about the rates of gun violence in Chicago and inspire community building in the areas most affected.
For communities in Chicago, the common rhetoric in the media surrounding the gun violence is a narrative that applies to other metropolitan cities and contrary to some beliefs, individuals are taking measures to change dangerous environments.
“Even though there are issues that we see, it’s not just here in Chicago—it’s everywhere. It’s events like this and other things that are going to help continue to put a better light on Chicago and to see that we are good people and we can do things to change the world,” said Victoria Brownlee, who works with inner-city youth.
In 1984, Ben Wilson, affectionately known as “Benji,” was an All-star basketball player who led Simeon to its first state championship and was once named the No.1 high school basketball player in the nation. That same year, Wilson was shot and killed while walking on Vincennes Avenue near the school.
Wilson’s story is not unfamiliar to many Chicago families who have been victims of gun violence.
“It’s the most important work that we can be doing, just making sure that the people that are directly closest to the pain and closest to the impact of gun violence are actually leading this effort, said Amber Goodwin, founder of Community Justice Reform Coalition, a national advocacy organization. “There’s definitely a lack of funding for evidence-based and data-informed research and implementation of strategies like cease-fire strategies.
“Like hospital-based interventions. I would go as far to say that people in Chicago should be demanding that we fully fund these strategies.”
But for some families,’ gun violence intervention solutions don’t start with local government and advocacy agencies.
“It’s important for the children because they need to see a different side of the community and what can happen when you stay focused and do what you’re supposed to do—you’re not gonna get everyone to do the right thing but you can make choices,” said Jennie Smith, 65, whose granddaughter is a cheerleader for Simeon. “I was a single parent. I did it. My children are successful and employed—its starts at home.”