ICHV News & Blog

ICHV Honors Chicago Area Winners of 20th Annual Student Voices Contest

“We need peace. We need to make sure that the kids live tomorrow so we can laugh, play sports, live, read books, go to church, have dinner, learn with your family and love one another….”
Mario Ramirez, 2nd Grade
Bridgeport Catholic Academy

Calling for a Safe Summer, ICHV Honors Chicago Area Winners of
20th Annual Student Voices Contest

K-12 Students Present Artwork, Essays & Poetry About Fears,
Concerns & Experiences with Gun Violence

June 9, 2015

Colleen Daley
Deanne Benos

Issuing a call for a safe summer, the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV) held an awards ceremony yesterday to honor the 15 Winners of the 20h Annual Student Voices Contest for their artwork, essays and poetry responding to the question: “No community is immune to gun violence. What can you do in your community to help change the reality of gun violence?” The event was at Pritzker College Prep, 4131 West Cortland in Chicago.

“Our state loses over 1,000 lives each year to gun violence. Far too many of those victims are children; whether it is while they are walking home from school, sitting on their front porch or crossing the street. Each year, this contest gives them an opportunity to have their voices heard, and build the foundation for a society free from gun violence,” said ICHV Executive Director Colleen Daley.

While the contestants ranged widely from 1st to 12th grade, their messages consistently portrayed personal, traumatic experiences with gun violence; fears about going outside to play and enjoy city parks this summer; and pleas to gangbangers to consider the consequences of their actions before they wield a gun.

Bridgeport Catholic Academy 2nd grader, Mario Ramirez’s artwork featured a map of the world sitting on top of a sign that says, “Stop the Violence.” Sitting within the continents were all of the activities that he thought that kids like him could enjoy in a world without guns. “We need peace. We need make sure that the kids live tomorrow so we can laugh, play sports, live and read books, go to church, have dinner, learn with your family and love one another,” he said.

Alexis Johnson, a 10th grader at Percy L. Julian High School, performed her spoken word, “What Had Happened Was…,” and said it is one of many works she has written inspired by the pain and anxiety of losing a close friend to gun violence last year. “Every graduating class at our school loses at least 2 kids every year. Just last year, I lost my friend, Christopher Jones, and it got to me a lot because that was my first time losing a friend to gun violence and I didn’t know how to handle it. I know it comes out in my work….”

Johnson’s mother, Jasmen Dukes, who also attended the ceremony, said that she was very proud of her daughter, but implied that the award seemed bittersweet. “I just hate that she has the knowledge she has. However, there is no same place for me to raise her so that she wouldn’t know it.” Dukes added that summer always raises concerns about safety in their house, and that she doesn’t allow her kids to go outside “without a purpose or a plan.”

Despite the fact that gun violence is not as prevalent in her community, Julia Schuurman, 7th Grade, Taft Academic Center, said that she said that she chose to focus her essay about ways that citizens can impact the issue through politics, and led her work with President John F. Kennedy’s famous quote,” Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” “I come from a neighborhood that isn’t infested with gangs and violence,” she said. “So, when I wrote this essay I thought about what I could do to make a difference. I thought about politics and supporting those that could actually make changes in the law and keep Chicago’s progressive gun control laws.”

Also acknowledging that Taft Academic Center is located in a less violent community, Morgan Zajac, another 7th grader at Taft Academic Center, said that she was impacted by the presentations of other winners from across the city. Her work was entitled, “1 Too Many, 1 Too Soon, Gunshots Fired, 1 More Wound.” “I felt like the other kids’ works were very inspirational to not only me, but everyone else because it showed that people do care about other people and that they care about not only their safety, but generations after us,” she said.

Jada Bey, a freshman from King College Prep, said that her work, “Walking the Hallways,” was inspired by the shooting death of Hadiya Pendleton, who would have been a senior at her school this year, and shared what she believes it will take to change the culture behind gun violence. “Talking out. Speaking. Everything starts with a voice,” she said. “Closed mouths don’t get fed. Speaking will start the change to stop gun violence. Speaking to the people who are starting the gun violence, starting with the rivalries and letting them know that this is wrong.”

“Each year, I am most surprised by the personal stories and experiences with gun violence that so many young people have shared through their work. I have children, and it is hard to imagine the exposure of any child to such gun-related tragedies,” said emcee Liz Cullen, Political and Issue Manager at WGN Ratio.

Over the years, the contest has awarded over 200 students hailing from more than 80 different schools all across the state. Their moving and inspiring works have been featured on national network news, at City Hall news conferences and community events throughout the state. Most importantly, winning students have had the opportunity to present their work and share their anti-violence messages to an assembly of their peers at the annual awards ceremony.

Winners were selected by a Blue Ribbon Panel that included: Monica Schneider, CLTV & WGN; Chuck Garfien, CSN Chicago; Elizabeth Sampson, The Poetry Center of Chicago; and Patrice Perkins, Creative Genius Law. Each winner was awarded with an Apple iPad, and their teachers received a $100 Amazon gift certificate for supplies and books.

“Getting students to think critically and express themselves on the issue of gun violence bears its own rewards. Students bring unique insight and creativity to this subject. They have much to teach us about the impact of gun violence, and we are eager to provide them with the opportunity to speak out publicly on this vital topic. We are also proud to foster the type of reflective thinking that leads to safe, conscientious actions later in life,” said ICHV Executive Director Colleen Daley.

Winning students were from: Pritzker College Prep, Percy L. Julian HS, Jordan Community Academy, Bridgeport Catholic Academy, Taft Academic Center, Edwin Foreman HS, Richard J. Daley Academy and King College Prep.

Click here to view the complete packet of all winners and their artwork, essays and poems.

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The Gun Violence Prevention Education Center (GPEC) and the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV) are combining forces to be a preeminent leader in the fight to reduce death and injury caused by gun violence in Illinois through education, research, organizing and enforcement around public policy. We are preparing to maximize impact by organizing operations, identifying strengths, and strategically expanding the gun violence prevention (GVP) efforts already in progress. Using proven digital and grassroots strategies, GPEC and ICHV will come together to build a powerful network that holds institutions accountable for passing and enforcing common sense gun policies.


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