High school students present research, professionals agree

By Alexandra Kukulka

Chicago violence is on the rise and targeting the city’s youth, and the high school students in the Columbia Links program are speaking out about the issue.

In their latest report on violence, a project titled “Don’t shot, I MUST grow up,” five high school students on the Columbia Links’ Investigative Team presented their findings on youth violence as a public health issue to a panel of doctors, policemen and community activists Nov. 15 in the 1014 S. Michigan Ave. Building.

“[Violence] is definitely a public health problem,” said Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, who spoke at the event. “It’s hard to be a 17-year-old kid in Chicago. They have to be tough. As adults, we have to step up for them and not leave it to kids to solve these problems on their own.”

Columbia Links, a program that teaches Chicago high schoolers about news literacy and reporting, recruited five members called the I-Team to participate in the panel: Lily Moore, sophomore at Northside College Prep High School, who presented research on brain injuries; Alan Peck, junior at Mount Carmel High School, who discussed being a man in the streets of Chicago; Kyler Sumter, sophomore at Lindblom Math & Science Academy, who talked about preventing violence; Matthew Wettig, junior at Lane Tech High School, who presented research on community activism on the South Side; and Wesley Bogard, senior at Harlan Community Academy High School, who presented research on the parental involvement and its affect on youth.

The students interviewed various professionals and community members for their research, all of whom were present at the event. Natalie Moore, former adjunct journalism professor and reporter for WBEZ, led the panel discussion.

Lily Moore worked with Dr. Hieu H. Ton-That, assistant professor of surgery in the Trauma & Emergency Division at Loyola University Medical Center and medical advocate for combatting youth violence, to further her research on the effects of brain injuries caused by violence.

According to Moore, Ton-That shared information with her about how serious and permanent these injuries are.

“We as young people think we are invincible,” Moore said. “Many young people get involved in gangs and gun violence and don’t seem to realize some of the most drastic outcomes of the violence.”

Peck interviewed Pollack on what it is like for young men to grow up in Chicago. Specifically, Peck researched programs like Become A Man as an example of a role model for young men living in the streets.

“As a young man myself, I can attest that it is very difficult growing up in a city where most of the violence is targeted toward young people,” Peck said.

Sumter looked into the organization CeaseFire, an anti-violence program that uses interrupters to end confrontations, and interviewed the organization’s executive director, Bob Jackson, to further her research.

“The most important part is that CeaseFire does work with young people, the target audience for violence … and acts as a father to the community,” Sumter said.

Wettig researched the effects of community activism on South Side neighborhoods. He went to a meeting of the Greater Chatham Alliance, which works to improve the viability of the community, to see what issues the organization was dealing with.

Specifically, Wettig researched a Labor Day weekend shooting in Pill Hill, a Chicago South Side neighborhood that forced the community to look into the issues of violence.

As part of his research, Bogard interviewed Diane Latiker, founder of Kids Off the Block, a community program that serves more than 1,500 youth in Roseland Ill., and the children she works with.

“By unifying our communities and educating ourselves on the topics that effect us the most, the disease of violence may not be an illness cured quickly,” Bogard said “But with patience and a plan of action, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.”