As of January 27, 2016, 42 people have been killed and 210 wounded in Chicago.
Chicago had more homicides than any other city in 2015. The city ended the year with 468 murders  and 2,900 shootings.These numbers along with the tragic story of the teen who called 911 for help three times before being shot by Chicago police, make Chicago sound like a warzone. Spike Lee attempted to speak on this war zone with his film Chiraq. He shared with Blavity’s Julian Mitchell that a major issue facing Chicago is murder. “It’s about murder, and the rate at which we are killing ourselves.”

As the murder count rises and violence becomes the norm, those living in the streets of Chiraq, especially children, are traumatized by the ongoing violence. Violent crimes are taking place in public places where children are able to see first hand the senseless acts. How is a child to react to the killing of another? How is a child to react when they continuously witness their friends and family members shot in plain view? Those are hard questions to answer considering no one expected that these would be the type of issues our children would have to face. However, the YMCA of Metro Chicago has taken a step towards answering these questions and finding solutions. As a part of their Youth Safety and Violence Prevention Programs, the YMCA has launched Urban Warriors. Urban Warriors is a 16 week structured program facilitated by military Veterans and YMCA staff geared towards reducing traumatic effects of violence on what they’re calling “American Child Soldiers”. Built on the premise that kids who experience trauma need to process it, these veterans are helping them work through it.

Photo: npr/Alyssa Schukar
Photo: npr/Alyssa Schukar

NPR reported on the program highlighting that Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are partnered with kids who live in high violence neighborhoods. Some of the veterans noted that they share more in common with these children than some might think. The kids who participate in the program, live in war zones where gangs who are identified by their colors and follow rank, are prevalent. Being in the correct color uniform and following rank are distinct characteristics of the military. The veterans share their battle stories about watching members of their platoon being shot and killed in front of them in exchange for the heart wrenching stories from the teens about their own personal experiences of watching their family members executed in front of them. This type of exchange allows all who participate, the opportunity to process the trauma and come to grips with their harsh realities. One teen who faced the dilemma of dropping of school credits the program for changing his mind. Stories like that along with countless others are what keep the military veterans coming back and pushing to make a change in the lives of Chicago youth.

For more information on how you can lend your support to youth safety and violence prevention programs in Chicago, visit here.  With continued help and support Chiraq may be able to go back to being Chicago one day.