It’s been a year since Zainee Hailey, a 13-year-old girl and 7th-grader at Newark’s Bragaw Avenue School, singer in her church choir, and cheerleader at her school, was shot and killed on Christmas Day as she took out the garbage from her family home.
She had just opened the Kindle her grandparents had given her for Christmas. Zainee’s grandfather, George Peterson, said that before she was killed, he had never seen her happier.
Kasson Mormon, a freshman at Central High School, was also killed that day. His friend, Abdul Frasier, was shot through the neck and remained in critical condition until he, too, died three weeks later. Abdul was a freshman at Weequahic High School.
Zainee lived on the third floor of a three-story house. Kasson lived on the first floor.
Zainee and her 7-year-old brother simply stumbled into the gunfire that day. Her little brother was not injured — at least not physically — by the gunfire.
Fifteen-year-old Abdul had just become a father, and Kasson, 14, was about to become one.
As horrific as this seems — gunfire, drive-by shootings and, as one Newark resident remarked, “bullets with no names on them” — such incidents have become routine in the city, particularly incidents involving school-aged children. Thirty-nine of them have been murdered since 2009. Twelve children were killed in 2013 alone.
When you speak to anyone in or out of Newark about this, they say the same thing: The violence has to stop.
As Mayor Ras Baraka said when he was the principal of the city’s Central High School, “This is not normal.”
But we are not going to police our way out to this. Nor are we going to get all of the guns off the streets. We can, however, educate our way to a less hostile, more harmonious and peaceful world.
The road that leads to a good life is built on shared values, discipline, hard work, accomplishment, and experiences that enable our youth to see a world that is different from their current reality.
That road begins with education — both in and out of school. Sure, education does not take the place of a strong family or a safe, nurturing community, but a great school can control enough variables to compensate for the absence of both.
If every child were genuinely educated — not just schooled — we would nurture and support entire generations of young people who would build strong families and safe communities.
This Christmas, Zainee would have been alive. Kassam would have been alive. Abdul would have been alive.
Years from now, they would have been attending reunions and telling stories among old friends — and to their children, and their children’s children, when they came over for Christmas dinner, like George Peterson did, with the perfect gift.
Beyond preparing young people for college or for a career, education is the foundation for good lives, strong families, and safe communities.
In this New Year, let’s resolve to turn down all the noise, lock arms, and get that job done once and for all.