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Chicago teens write about violence plaguing city: ‘I don’t want to be next’

Cover Don't Shoot I Want To Grow Up written by students ColumbiCollege Chicago.

Cover of Don't Shoot, I Want To Grow Up written by students at Columbia College Chicago.

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Updated: September 30, 2012 6:16AM



One writes about Dec. 27, 2011, when her friend Dantril Brown, a 17-year-old high school senior, was killed in a shooting at a White Castle restaurant in Englewood.

Another, whose father was shot and killed on a West Side corner, expresses relief a wayward favorite cousin is now in prison. At least he didn’t die on the streets.

Yet another worries constantly that she’ll end up in the wrong place at the wrong time — “and BAM, you’re gone. I don’t want to be next,” the 14-year-old frets.

For the last two years, the Columbia College’s Columbia Links writing program, intended for high-school students, has seen more and more teen applicants come in wanting to explore the topic of violence in their neighborhoods.

“They’re asked on the application what issue facing Chicago teens they’d like to focus on. Overwhelmingly, it was violence,” Executive Director Brenda Butler said.

They’d be diverted — to topics like teen joblessness and attributes of rap music.

But this bloody summer, with murders up 27 percent, most of the teens insisted.

“It has become so much a part of their lives it can’t be ignored. So we said, ‘Go ahead.’ The result was poignant, revealing, candid and uncensored,” says Butler.

“Don’t Shoot. I Want to Grow Up,” is a compilation of letters and essays addressed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy that the students hope to give them as their summer program heads toward a closing ceremony Thursday.

A mayoral spokesman said a meeting with McCarthy is being arranged for the teens.

“I want to tell them how I now hate going on social networks because it might be someone me or my friends know, killed in gun violence,” said Diamond Trusty, 16, of Humboldt Park, a junior at Prosser Career Academy where Dantril Brown attended.

“You log on to Twitter, and it’s always, ‘R.I.P. trending.’ Someone else gone.”

One student, Raymond Roundtree, 17, of Bronzeville, a sophomore at Options Laboratory High School, writes he and his friends now call Chicago “Chi-raq.”

For young black males, it may as well be war-torn Iraq. “I have been jumped, been pushed to fight, and have been robbed. ...I became immune to violence,” he writes.

Another from Lincoln Park who attends Jones College Prep writes of a friend from school who joined a gang then wanted out. “All they wanted to do was hurt him.”

Another from Bridgeport who attends Kenwood Academy, writes of a rising phenomenon in the schools, involving what used to be known as cliques: “These cliques are no longer innocent groups of close friends. They are beginning to resemble gangs.”

And yet another, Damien Foster, 15, of North Lawndale, a sophomore at Manley Career Academy, writes that for many teens, violence has become “a state of mind.”

“Anger and violence go hand in hand. When something is done to you or a family member, you want to do something out of anger to get revenge,” Foster writes.

“I can relate to this because my brother was jumped on. He wanted to go and fight back with a gun, but my other brother and I wouldn’t even let him out of the house. Violence is a lifestyle, but it’s not one you have to live.”



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