|More than 100 local middle school students gathered|
at the University of Illinois at Chicago to be recognized for their essays.
Image: Missy Enaje
Hear the Rivet NewsRadio piece that used my audio:
"Waking up, stepping out with fear...
around the corner, bullets can interfere.
I see my five friends, they say hello. A car passes by, I yell, "Down low!"
It goes away, and no one is hurt. Our knees and faces covered with dirt."
That poem was an excerpt from one of the writers who took top recognition at the national 'Do the Write Thing' Challenge. The competition gives middle school students a platform to share what they think should be done to reduce youth violence.
More than 1,000 essays were submitted and on Tuesday evening, the top 100 finalists were recognized at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Speaking to about a dozen finalists, I couldn't help but leave with a small glimpse of hope. I spoke with Christopher Housmah, from the Englewood neighborhood. He opened up about how he lost his childhood friend after a basketball game due to gun violence.
I asked him what he wrote about and he recited six bars from a poem he wrote about his friend and how youth violence has impacted his life. Hoping to one day be a "successful rapper like Common," Housmah said he wishes he had the resources to go to a studio and record some of his ideas. I offered the soundcloud.com free online music platform, but unfortunately that was a tough option since he didn't own a smartphone. But the determination in his voice to succeed was beyond evident. After seeing his parents smile with pride as he recited his poem, I couldn't help but stop recording the interview and clap in applause.
What's a better perspective to hear from than from the voice of the daughter of an FBI agent? Mary Kaitlyn Hayes, who was a finalist for the second time, told me that her father was not in attendance but that he was proud of her and wanted her to continue to inspire others. She had a word for those involved in the Baltimore riots:
"Don't follow other people around you, even if it's not even popular, don't do violence, it [doesn't] make sense to do violence, you can just be a good person to people," Hayes said.
Fabiola Paloma of Hurley Elementary and Damian Flores of Columbia Explorers Academy took top honors and will be flown to Washington D.C. to represent Chicago at the national competition.
Paloma told me she was inspired after watching the 90's film, "Juice," which was about four inner-city teens who get caught up in the pursuit of power and happiness, while involved in crime and violence to gain respect. The film's main protagonist, popular rapper Tupac Shakur, lost his life to gun violence. She said if she won, she would want people to read her essay and she hopes one day to write a book.
Flores's mother was sitting next to her son in admiration as he described her as the inspiration behind his desire to succeed. A bright young student from Brighton Park, Flores said that if he had a chance to talk to Chicago leaders, he would tell them to spend more time with the youth rather than gangs.
"If we were to steer the youth in a different direction that they are now with gangs, I think we would have a chance," Flores said.
Flores added, "I have to become someone successful and break the chain of what other Chicagoans do."
One mother took center stage as she talked about how the students shared similar ambitions as her daughter. In 2013, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton lost her 15-year-old daughter Hadiya to gang violence. Hadiya once stood in front of President Obama and showcased her singing talents. Two more talented Chicago students will also have a thing or two to say at the nation's capitol as they talk about what impacts 'home' for them.