Local Teens Fight Violence with C.R.I.M.E.
Story by Scarlett Stoppa, Photos by Adam Christopher Snow - September 14, 2010
There are many schools of thought on what needs to change in Chicago to transform the cultures of violence that are recklessly killing our African American and Hispanic youth. Barack Obama, before he was elected president, called absent fathers to step up to their familial responsibilities.
Mayor Daley, believing part of the solution rests in gun control, took his handgun ban all the way to the Supreme Court, lost, and fired back with an ordinance that will also see its day in court.
Even Mike Tyson, a complicated example of the ways a violent childhood and a teen mentorship can come together to shape a man, has weighed in on the debate, sharing his view that the youth energy wasted on drugs and killing should be redirected to “something positive.”
High profile figures speaking up and taking (well-researched) action on the issues certainly helps matters, but the youth themselves, when empowered to brainstorm, strategize, create, and articulate, are an incredibly powerful vehicle for change. The Illinois Violence Prevention Authority likely believed in this power when they offered a mini-grant for a violence prevention program in which the youth led all aspects of the program, from grant-writing to implementation to evaluation.
Enter: The C.R.I.M.E. Teens.
C is for Compassion. Desiree Tellis, in her poem “Trailing Behind,” inspires her readers to see the potential in those that we find most difficult to help, bear, or forgive. “In the front of the tracks I envision someone succeeding / Someone leaving those tracks left behind / Taking a new path, takin’ a new way.” Desiree is 17, a high school senior with people skills and a “good work ethic.” And she is one of several talented teens that Dr. Jeffery Bulanda recruited to create the winning violence prevention program.
“Without any adult prompting,” said Dr. Bulanda, Program Director for the Empowering Counseling Center (ECC) serving the Bronzeville community, “[the teens] saw that to prevent violence, they had to work to develop pro-social skills and values among youth at risk for being violent.” It didn’t take them long to identify the right values to both form the deliciously ironic acronym C.R.I.M.E. and a foundation upon which to build their program for peace.
R is for Respect. According to Tio Hardiman, Director for Ceasefire Illinois, a successful street violence reduction program, “Despite Chicago's entrenched gang culture, many fatal shootings have nothing to do with the drug trade. They begin with petty insults and escalate until someone is dead.” Feeling disrespected is a major driver motivating youth violence. The C.R.I.M.E. Teens talk firsthand about how to reverse this dynamic in C.R.I.M.E: Replacing Violence with Compassion, Respect, Inspiration, Motivation and Empathy, written specifically for adults helping youth. (If you’re an adult helping youth or would simply like to support, buy the book here. All proceeds go toward a scholarship fund for the C.R.I.M.E. youth leaders.)
“I didn’t have anything else to do, so I just gave it a try.” Evading boredom was the driving force behind Monique Ratcliff’s decision to get involved with Stand Up! Help Out! , the After School Matters program where C.R.I.M.E. was born. Here the teens learn the principles and practices of social work. Monique is 16 and a junior. She likes to write and enjoys working with kids. Aaron Shannon also chose to get involved “instead of going straight home and doing nothing….” According to a report out of Northeastern University’s criminology department, most youth crimes are committed in the hours between school and evening. It follows that lives could be saved by filling that time.
But Aaron, 17 and a senior, wasn’t just interested in filling time. He wanted to “do something positive in the community.” Waking up to discover the thick window glass on the #12 Roosevelt bus had saved him from a bullet to the head, Aaron knew he had a responsibility to be a role model in both his family and his community.
I is for Inspiration. Dominique Ratcliff, Monique’s sister (and partner in C.R.I.M.E.), was inspired to involvement in 8th grade by her school’s social worker. She soon learned that being inspired often results in being inspiring, and “taking that lead to help others.” Dominique is 16, a junior, and may have a future in marketing. When asked what adults can do to help teens dealing with violence in their lives, Dominique didn’t miss a beat recommending that they buy the book!
[In addition to basking in the warm satisfaction of supporting new program development, purchasers will enjoy poems, personal narratives, helpful advice and activities for promoting peace-keeping behavior in children and adolescents, and an excellent refresher on several important values that help us to connect with those around us.]
King Sami compares violence to bacteria. He’s seen it spread into many areas of his life, but he believes that people do not have to be violent, “even if they are taught it and surrounded by it.” King is 19, a freshman at Monmouth College, and co-creator (with Monique Ratcliff) of the Bullying component of the ABC'S of Peace, a violence prevention program on Anger management, Bullying, Conflict resolution, and Self esteem that the C.R.I.M.E. Teens have presented to over 200 first through sixth graders (DVD, workbook, and video available at www.crimeteens.com).
M is for Motivation. Brandon Copeland came to understand first hand how difficult it is to stay motivated (and motivating) when teaching students who won’t listen. But he also witnessed how apathy (or a lack of motivation) allowed youth to perpetrate violence in his community. When surveillance cameras and broad daylight no longer deter violence, other motivations must be enlisted. Brandon is 17, a senior, and a visual artist.
“In my shoes you could be / ... / Between the lines you could read” Daria Siler’s poem “Welcoming Hearts” invites readers to consider and understand another’s perspective, particularly as a means to resolve conflict nonviolently. As a daughter who witnessed domestic violence Daria struggled with her anger and disappointment, but she was eventually able to understand the complexities that allowed violence to breed. E is for Empathy helped her to forgive. Daria is 17, a senior, and she understands education to be the key to success.
E might also stand for early intervention. The C.R.I.M.E. Teens’ are currently illustrating and writing a children’s picture book featuring Suluhu, the Peace Dragon (Suluhu means peace in Swahili) to teach lessons in friendship, self-esteem, and peaceful conflict resolution. They understand that it’s never too early to positively influence a child.
Tiara Ousley was the one C.R.I.M.E. Teen who told a fictional story of violence rather than a personal narrative. Maybe she did this because she wants to be an actress and a writer someday and those careers are about exploring characters and motivations. Maybe she made that choice because fiction can be a graceful medium for revealing the profoundness of a moment—“People always say good things before they die” is a truth Tiara’s character understands in that hazy moment before sleep. Or maybe fiction was a more sheltered path to confronting real violence and a very real instinct to retaliate. Tiara is 16, a sophomore, and she may have hit upon the C.R.I.M.E. Teens next project: The Great American Novel.
Of course, they’ll have to find the time. In addition to presenting the ABC’s of Peace to young kids all over the city, the C.R.I.M.E. Teens will be sharing their work with adults at University of Chicago’s “Break the Violence” conference (September 18th); Loyola University’s Alumni Continuing Education event, Growth through Creativity - New Ways of Reaching Others (September 25th), and UIC’s Youth Development Conference (November 5th).
In addition to buying and reading their first book, there are myriad ways to help the C.R.I.M.E. Teens and their cause:
Be a Facebook friend (and suggest the “C.R.I.M.E. Teens” to your friends, especially those working with youth).
Connect on LinkedIn. Spread the word there too.
Buy a book in person September 19th at the 57th Street Book Fair in Hyde Park. The youth would love to meet you.
Make a donation! Send to Dr. Tyson’s attention at Loyola University Chicago (820 N. Michigan Ave, 60611) with "CRIME" in the memo box. Identify it as a donation to the program.