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'Lose the Swagger': Bestselling Author Advises Evanston Boys

Following the shooting death of 14-year-old Dajae Coleman, columnist Christine Wolf interviews legal analyst and author Lisa Bloom, asking how communities touched by violence can turn things around.

Memorial to Dajae Coleman.
Memorial to Dajae Coleman.

On Sept. 22, 2012, Dajae Coleman was shot and killed less than one mile from his home in Evanston,  just two weeks into his freshman year of high school. His death has touched every generation in this suburb north of Chicago: parents knowing “this could have been my child”; high school students wearing “stop the violence” wristbands in the slain boy’s honor; elementary students whispering about the big kid shot on Church Street.

The community has gathered in a multitude of ways. Students created a Stop The Violence In Evanston Facebook page. Residents gathered at two community-wide meetings, one held at the YMCA to discuss a path forward and another at a community center to brainstorm ways to prevent another tragedy. Most recently, the city announced that it has scheduled a gun buyback program for Dec. 15.

These have all been steps toward healing, but many of us feel the real work lies ahead. The true change, many believe, will come from raising more boys like Dajae Coleman in the first place. But how is that accomplished?

Last year, with two of my three kids in middle school, I kept my sanity (nearly) intact by talking with friends and fortifying my library with parenting books. Michael J. Bradley’s Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy was a comfort, as was Anthony E. Wolf’s Get Out Of My Life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall? The most important book I’ve read, however, is Lisa Bloom’s SWAGGER: 10 URGENT RULES for raising boys in an era of failing schools, mass joblessness, and thug culture.

I’ll admit to picking up SWAGGER because all three of my kids used the term liberally. “He’s got swagger.” “That’s so swag” “It’s Swagalicious”. I’d hear about swagger or swag in the songs their generation heard, the videos circulating among their friends – even the clothes their peers wore. If something was cool, it had swag. It got to the point that, instead of saying, “cool”, kids would often say, “swag,” and thus, Lisa Bloom’s SWAGGER ended up on my bedside table.

The advice Bloom offers in SWAGGER reminds every parent what we should be doing for our boys:

1. Teach boys humility…and lose the swagger

2. Set college expectations early and often

3. Encourage reading

4. Eliminate reading’s competition (screens)

5. Become intimate with your child’s online life

6. Empower your boys with critical thinking skills about media

7. Support his teachers

8. Teach him to respect girls and women

9. Make community service a habit

10. Get him out of his environment – introduce him to more than his own culture & socioeconomic group

Following Dajae's death, I wanted to know if it’s too late to help young men raised without the benefit of those 10 rules. I also wondered what we could do as a community to help at-risk young men. I reached out to the author via SKYPE, and I'm sharing her response on video.

I’d like to know how other cities across the nation handle tragedies like the loss of Dajae Coleman, and how we can unite to effect change, raising boys who thrive rather than boys who kill.


Dan Cox November 06, 2012 at 11:48 AM
It is a Knee-Jerk response, similar to the idea of a Gun Buy-Back Program. The promise's are just a con, and the Kid's know what you don't. We are stuck in a never ending cycle of doing what we are expected to do...Get up. go to work, pay the Bill's, Taxes and and hope there is something left for us to buy some diversion with, after we have given Corporate America and Uncle Sam their share. We tell them to go to College and get in Debt, up to your ears, so you can be saddled with that, right out of the gate. No promise of a Job, when you Graduate, because we gave them away to China, Japan and everybody else that Corporate America sold out to. I say this as a person that is tired of the Progressive Liberal Hype, the B.S. is only tickling the ears of those, who are too blind to see...
Christine Wolf November 12, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Dan, thanks for writing, though I'm confused by your first sentence. What are you referring to when you talk about the knee-jerk response? To what?
Bryce Myron Schmidt January 01, 2013 at 11:05 PM
I'm excited to learn about your message. I believe there is only a low per centage of people who realize that "talking down" to others is disrespectful. "Mastery over others" and force-ranking not only happens between people, but it is also built into our institutions. A person who is my supervisor can either fulfill the duties of the role respectfully (I won't rebel at his/her orders) or s/he can use it to "look down" on me. One of the things spiritual masters addressed was this very issue. It's possible they saw equality as the necessary prerequisite to the totally developed or 'mature' human being (sorry there's a better word for it)!
Jordan S. Zoot September 15, 2013 at 01:31 PM
Christine..there is something missing from your piece....and that is taking the time and effort to TEACH YOUNG PEOPLE ABOUT THE SAFE AND PROPER HANDLING AND USE OF FIREARMS...which is a right provided to each and every American under the 2A of the United States Constitution. The Boy Scouts, 4-H, the Civilian Marksmanship Program and other groups have been offering firearms training for young people for over a century. If you take the effort to remove the mystique away from firearms and teach safety and respect for them...the urge to be curious goes away......you have just inspired me to offer to teach the NRA Basic Pistol Class in Evanston for young people [must be accompanied by a parent or guardian that is eligible to own firearms in Illinois with a valid FOID card, or similar background check...and the class will be free, with the classroom portion taught in Evanston.

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