From Fiction to Reality: Connecting Text to Violence in Chicago

Co-authored by Terrion Brown-Harvey, CICS Ralph Ellison, Class of 2016 and AmeriCorps Scholar Coach Joshua Wiggins

Terrion and Joshua at CICS Ralph Ellison
Imagine a city, a utopian city, in which everything was perfect. In Ursula Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, the reader is consumed by an intricate and compelling description of an alluring place without poverty, violence, or hunger. Once Le Guin has captured the reader she asks the rhetorical question, “Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing.”

What follows is the most grotesque and foul description of a suffering young child. Barely fed and forced to sit in his own excrement, the frail young child was viewed by many people of the city and known about by all who abided within. The child was the scapegoat of Omelas. Once every citizen came of age they were informed about the child in the broom closet and the purpose he served. In a few cases, it would disturb citizens so tremendously that they would silently walk away from the city never to return.

As Terrion Brown-Harvey engaged with this text, I asked him, “Would you silently walk away from Omelas?” A portion of his journal entry response is below:

It is not okay to allow one person to suffer so that others can live life comfortably. Everyone on earth was created equal, and should be treated as such. To watch a child suffer like that is unbearable... If confronted with this conflict, I would definitely walk away from Omelas.

We then began to delve into deeper questions such as: What does it mean to silently walk away? What are alternatives to walking away from the city? Do you have any scapegoats? What is okay to walk away from in your community? These questions led to many insightful comments and great conversations with Terrion. Ultimately, I challenged him to make a text-to-world connection and think about how The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas could be related to his community.

He shifted our discussion to what it would mean to walk away from violence in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood. In 2012, Auburn Gresham had 43 homicides, which was more than any other neighborhood in Chicago. Initially, Terrion had a limited view about the violence in his community and reduced it to the all too common phrase “black-on-black violence.” I quickly realized that his placing blame only on members of his community, who have historically been influenced by many structural factors that fostered a culture of violence, was problematic. Noticing this, we read newspaper articles about the many factors that contribute to violence in Chicago. As he immersed himself in the new ideas, he realized that violence in Chicago did not occur naturally. Terrion elaborated in a journal entry:

Compared to other cities, Chicago is one of the most violent cities. Englewood, Marquette, and Auburn Gresham are Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods. Some of the factors that cause this violence are poverty, disinvestment, excessive unemployment, foreclosures, and underperforming schools. Although gangs are responsible for a majority of the violence, they are influenced by these factors and violence is structural.

After learning that many factors influence violence in Chicago, Terrion began to embrace a different outlook on his community. He realized that he does not have to walk away from the violence silently, but that he can walk away and also make a difference. Terrion gave credit to his experience as a Schuler Scholar and his education for why he can not only walk away, but walk away and be a positive influence.

Violence has taught me to stay in school no matter what happens. Dropping out will lead me to the grave or to jail. I have always understood the importance of my education; however, the Schuler Scholar Program equipped me with the tools to influence my friends and be a leader as well. I encourage my friends who have dropped out or who may be gang affiliated to value education so that we can all escape the guns and gang violence.

From a utopian city to a community in one of the most violent cities in the country, Terrion was able to relate a fictional short story to his community. Not only did Terrion transition from a narrow understanding of violence in his community to a deeper sociological understanding of the contextual factors that influence this violence, he was also able to stop walking away from violence silently, as the people of Omelas did, and take a stand as a leader and positive influence in his community.


  1. I'm so proud of the man you have become Joshua! Make a difference! <3

  2. a brilliant teaching/learning exchange!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts