Dozens of reporters met with youth, local organizations and other individuals working to curb youth violence in Chicago June 28 in an effort to start a dialogue on how the media are – and are not – covering the epidemic.
The purpose of the meeting, held at Columbia College Chicago and sponsored by the Community Media Workshop, was to help Chicago’s media outlets, ranging from the Chicago Tribune to AustinTalks, tell the whole story about youth violence and to know where and how to get the information from those closest to what’s happening.
Reporters had the opportunity to hear from multiple speakers including WBEZ reporter and South Side bureau chief Natalie Moore, who also moderated the event, Rob Castaneda, founder of Beyond the Ball, which provides a safe space for youth to play sports in the Little Village community and Dr. Von Nebbitt, former inmate turned University of Illinois at Chicago professor.
Castaneda told the crowd about the importance of safe spaces in high-violence neighborhoods. He said youth and their families in Little Village are afraid to play at one of the neighborhood’s schools located at 31st Street and Lawndale Avenue, because it’s between two gang turfs. For the past 30 years, the school building was covered in gang graffiti and not welcoming, he said.
He and his wife wanted to help the community reclaim the space, so they held a picnic there. More than 1,000 people showed up, he said.
“To see a thousand community residents in that space, and the way that transformed that space, we knew we had to do something with that,” he said.
That’s when his wife came up with Project Play, a program that invites parents and their kids to come and play in the space in the summer on Tuesday and Thursday nights. He said each week, more than 600 people come out to the park to play soccer, badminton, and basketball, among other activities.
He said there’s so much “potential” in Chicago’s crime-ridden areas.
“There’s a lot of amazing stories in our neighborhoods, and I would challenge everybody here to start getting them today,” he said.
Guest speaker Nebbitt, who researches violence at UIC’s Jane Addams School of Social Work, grew up in a “pretty awful” place in St. Louis where violence and hostility was commonplace, he told the crowd.
Before the age of 29 he had been shot twice, arrested for six felonies and served three years in prison.
“I was using drugs, alcohol, I was doing anything that numbed it and allowed me to participate in this kind of insane reality,” he said. “It was a vicious cycle because the more victimization I experience and the more substance abuse I experience, the more I perpetrated this kind of violence.”
He said youth violence is a cycle, and preventing it is not as simple as saying, “stop shooting each other.”
He said the problem can be addressed, and he’s living proof.
After being in and out of the system, Nebbit met with a public defender, who helped him receive alternative sentencing. The defender gave him hope and passion, and he got his life on track.
“I’m evidence that we can take people who have been victims of violence and perpretrators of violence…and a concerned and caring community, we can make a drastic difference in people’s lives,” he said.
After hearing from the guest speakers, youth and professional reporters made their way to different tables with representatives from facilities and organizations including the anti-domestic violence group Between Friends, Albany Park Safety Net Works Youth Leadership Council, BUILD, Inc., Brady PAC-IL and CROSSWalk, among others.
Reporters were able to network and build sources, while the representatives told them about underreported youth-violence stories they wish the media would cover.