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.
- Click here to hear about teaching boys humility.
- Click here for her insight as to who’s doing things right.
- Lisa Bloom's advice for Evanston.
- Click here for Lisa's summary of the book...and why reading is critical.
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.