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Family Of Jackie Robinson West Little League Team Member Is Homeless [UPDATE]

By Chuck Sudo in News on Aug 29, 2014 6:00PM

UPDATE 1:10 p.m.: Spencer Leak, vice president of Leak & Sons Funeral Homes, has offered to pay for a year of rent for Jaheim Benton and his family.

As proud as this city is for the Jackie Robinson West Little League team's success and as quickly as we have embraced them, the fact remains baseball is but a respite for the everyday struggles these young men endure in the neighborhoods they call home. The members of the U.S. Little League champion team still have to return home to Englewood, Chatham, South Shore, Morgan Park, Auburn-Gresham, Washington Heights, Grand Crossing and other South Side neighborhoods that would otherwise garner headlines for the “lather, rinse, repeat” cycle of drugs, guns and violence.

Case in point, the Sun-Times has an article about Jaheim Benton, one of JRW’s stars during their Little League World Series run, being homeless and sleeping in the homes of friends and family since June. Jaheim’s mother, Devona Benton, told the Sun-Times her hours as a home care provider for Catholic Charities were cut after losing three clients, while Jaheim’s father, Frank Jackson, works part-time as a radiator technician. The couple can’t support their family on two part-time salaries, when they’re already living paycheck to paycheck.

Benton and Jackson each made trips to Williamsport, Pennsylvania to watch Jaheim play baseball, which Jackson called “an escape from reality.” That reality: currently Jaheim and his father are with a family friend while Jackson and Benton work to find a home and more stable employment. “I’m trying to do the best I can and get us back together,” Benton told the Sun-Times.

These are the stories that, far too often, fall by the wayside in favor of heartwarming stories like JRW’s success or the tragic headlines of another black child killed in a shooting. Pundits like Bill O’Reilly love to lecture their audiences about how if black families had two parents and focused on education, discipline and hard work, their children wouldn’t be shooting each other. The reality is much more nuanced than that. Here is a family struggling to find a roof to place over their collective head, to obtain gainful employment, to keep their son on the straight and narrow. And Jaheim Benton and his family aren’t the exception. There are other families in these neighborhoods trying to get through the day, just like Jaheim and his parents.

These families and others in Englewood, Chatham, South Shore, Morgan Park, Auburn-Gresham, Washington Heights, Grand Crossing and other South Side neighborhoods labor under social conditions that justify being classified as causes of post-traumatic stress disorder: unrelenting poverty; disinvestment in their neighborhoods by the local governments in which they live; generations of neglect and abuse; ceaseless violence.

Politicians trip over themselves to heap praise when something extraordinary happens, like JRW’s run, or criticize when a holiday weekend ends in a rash of senseless shootings across the city. At Wednesday’s victory rally for Jackie Robinson West, Gov. Pat Quinn, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, several aldermen and other politicians, representatives of the Cubs and White Sox were all onstage to bask in the glow of these young men who radiated cheer and won’t fully recognize or understand the social importance of their accomplishments for years.

Chances are solid Emanuel will hold a news conference Tuesday decrying the violence that is almost certainly bound to happen this weekend. Maybe he’ll have learned from his tone-deafness responding to the Independence Day bloodshed and won’t demand where the families are and why aren’t they keeping their kids away from gangs and guns. Maybe Emanuel will use the JRW team as examples to strive for—“pickup a baseball bat instead of a gun, kids.”

What Emanuel won’t address are the circumstances that led to Jaheim Benton couch surfing at the homes of family and friends. Will Emanuel and other politicians finally create initiatives that give these kids and their families the resources they need to combat poverty, violence, and homelessness? Because having WGCI DJ Tony Sculfield shouting “put the guns down” at Jackie Robinson Park isn’t working.

It would be great if Emanuel and community leaders got together and held a news conference to announce they’re working on helping Jaheim Benton’s family find a house and gainful employment. Because the longer they remain homeless, the greater the chances Jaheim Benton winds up becoming one of those “what if?” statistics in Chicago’s ignominious litany of children whose lives were cut short by violence. Or worse, the pull of street gangs grows and Jaheim Benton becomes another statistic.

If that happens, how quickly will critics come forth to condemn Jaheim as a “thug” versus addressing the issues that led to him and his family becoming homeless?