CPS students primed to channel their tragedies into activism and advocacy
Thousands of students across the country participated in the National School Walkout to demand stricter laws against gun violence; for students at Henderson Elementary in West Englewood, this marked their third walkout.
Henderson's peace marches are born from pain that hit too close to home — within the last three years, the school has seen three of its students die from gun violence. So when Henderson students march, they walk down the very streets where fellow classmates lost their lives.
"We've had a shooting or homicide every day for the last 37 months," said Dion McGill, a program manager at the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence."[The April 20 march] This one is the first one that actually isn't in direct response to the killing of a student."
About 60 students, teachers, and parents participated in the march. As they walked down the streets carrying symbols of peace, such as cardboard doves, and signs that commemorated those who passed away, neighbors stepped outside to cheer on the marchers and join in their "increase the peace" chant.
"When we began to have murders with our kids and shootings here [on the school's grounds], it became really important to teach the kids about activism and advocacy," said Ylonda Ware, a Henderson counselor for nine years who organized the peace march. "I think it raises their awareness, that there is something that they can do and that people will come out and be a part of their movement and listen."
"It's helpful for them to see what's happening in the news as it relates to handgun violence; it's helpful for them to learn about the root causes of violence and how it impacts them and their community and their future," Ware continued. "[Marching] This is one of the ways you can raise awareness and get the alderman, the state representative, and the police department to come out and listen to what you have to say, to hold your elected officials accountable."
15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez attended the April 20th march. He's been connected to Henderson's marches since their inception and hopes that the students can see peaceful activism as a way out of the cycle of violence.
"The only way to truly break that cycle is to go to the source of where that next cycle starts, and that's the children," Lopez said. "These marches are student-driven and organized in-house; this helps embolden them to go home and say, 'Violence is not an option for us,' there's something more that we need to live for — if we can have them embrace a new direction, it will have a lasting impact on changing that cycle."
"I tell students that activism is an ongoing process: Nothing is stagnant, it's something we have to do," McGill emphasized.
This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.