A trio of West Side high school students hope to get their chance to talk tonight with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy about violence in their neighborhoods.
Austin’s Josh Jones and Diamond Trusty and Damien Foster of Garfield Park each wrote essays on youth violence in Chicago as part of the journalism skills and leadership program Columbia Links at Columbia College Chicago.
Their essays, along with the writings of 19 other Chicago high school students, were published last month in the collection “Don’t Shoot I want to Grow Up.”
The publication gained media attention and caught the eye of the city’s police department, spurring a planned 5 p.m. Sept. 13 meeting at in Columbia’s journalism department, 33 E. Congress Pkwy.
McCarthy does not have any planned remarks, police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said. He has seen the students’ essays and just “wants to interact with them” and talk about what they wrote.
Columbia Links Executive Directive Brenda Butler said usually the program tries to discourage students from writing about violence, but nearly every student who applied for the program said he or she wanted to write about it.
“We said, ‘Look at what’s going on around us, maybe we should just let them get it off their chest, and give them a week to address these issues to the mayor and the police chief,” Butler said.
It’s been a violent year.
As of Sept. 2, there had been 366 murders in Chicago this year, up 30 percent from 2011, according to the police department’s CompStat statistical report.
Steve Franklin, ethnic media project director for the Community Media Workshop, said first hand accounts of the effects of violence from the Columbia Links students offer an important corrective to the story of the violence that is being told in the media.
“If you’re black or Latino, the news doesn’t seem to cover your world unless you die, get shot or you’re being deported,” said Franklin, who is an adjunct professor at Columbia and works with the Columbia Links students.
“If you look at all their stories, the stories tend to be ‘here is my world, and here is how I’m dealing with it,’ and that is so important.”
Student Diamond Trusty said she was drawn to Columbia Links, which mentors and teaches Chicago teenagers journalism skills and ethics through classroom instruction, because she wants to have a career as a newswoman.
She attends Prosser Career Academy, 2148 N. Long Ave., and is working on keeping her grades up so she can go to college and major in broadcast journalism.
Trusty’s essay – “I’m tired of being scared” – tells the story of losing her best friend, 17-year-old Dantril Brown, a little more than eight months ago in a shooting on the South Side. In it, she pleads to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and McCarthy to do more to curb youth violence.
“It was hard to write about, but at the same time, I didn’t know what crime in Chicago was until it took him from me. And when he died, it opened my eyes that Chicago and where I live is getting out of hand, and something needs to be done about it,” Diamond said.
Evelyn Trusty, Diamond’s mom, said Brown was a good kid who cared about her daughter.
“He didn’t always make good choices … but he was only 17 years old,” Diamond said. “He looked out for me; I saw him as a caring person who could brighten anyone’s day.”
Evelyn Trusty describes her daughter as “just a normal child” who she struggles to keep away from the computer, but she has experienced things that are not normal for a junior in high school.
During one seven-day stretch, Diamond had to attend three separate funerals for young men who died before their 21st birthday, Trusty said. One of those children died in a car crash; the other two were victims of violence.
“I just recently saw a shooting before my eyes, bullets were coming toward me,” Diamond said. “My family called the police, and they never came. We keep calling and calling, and they never come.
“They say they want to help, but if you want to help make an effort. I don’t see any effort being made by the Chicago Police.”
While Diamond’s essay demanded help from the police department and the mayor, student Damien Foster focused on trying to change the attitudes of Chicago’s teens.
The message of his essay – “My definition of violence” – that violence is a state of mind that can be changed, is a lesson he learned from his father Deion.
Deion Foster spent almost 10 years, from 1993 to 2003, in prison for armed robbery, and when he got out, he made it his mission to keep his children off of the path he followed.
“I was very naive, very stupid and had a third grade education [when I went to prison]. I walked away graduating from MacMurray College. I vowed to myself, ‘There is no way in the world I’m going to do a whole decade in jail and still be stupid,” Deion Foster said.
“So that’s what made me get on top of my sons, that’s what made me talk to them about violence and how things are in real life.”
The effort has worked for Damien, but he is still confronted almost every day with the violence of others.
“I live in a gang-affiliated neighborhood,” Foster said. “It’s terrible, there are shootings literally on the next block.”
Foster would like to see a group like CeaseFire come and work in his neighborhood to “tell people they’re going down the wrong path.”
Foster is a sophomore at Manley Career Academy, 2935 W. Polk St., and his mom, Latasha Foster, is a nurse. Because of her, Foster said he wants to be a heart surgeon.
“She always tells me about her patients and how she helps them, and I just want to be a part of that.”