President Barack Obama will come to Chicago on Friday and talk about guns, heeding the calls from crime-ridden communities to make the city a priority in his national anti-violence agenda.
Tyler Minor, 16, from left, Brian Alexander, 16, and Jacquan Fonza, 14, raise their hands Wednesday when asked if they knew someone who had been shot. A dozen teen boys visited the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Chicago to participate in a discussion about the potential effect of President Obama's initiatives on Chicago's violence. ( Anthony Souffle, Chicago Tribune / February 13, 2013 )
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But young African-American men, those most likely to be hit by the gunfire that occurs almost daily in neighborhoods like Roseland, Englewood and Lawndale, were not leading the call for a presidential visit. They view the violence through a different lens.
Unlike the longtime activists who have held marches, preached sermons and demanded that Obama offer resources and fresh policy ideas to help curtail Chicago's escalating homicide rate, young men forced to live their lives dodging bullets are less confident of what the president can achieve.
At least that's the message from a dozen teenagers who sat down with the Tribune on Wednesday night at the Salvation Army's Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in West Pullman to talk about the impact of the president's visit. The young men, most of them high school students from neighboring Roseland, Morgan Park, Washington Heights and Calumet Park, attend an after-school program at the center.
The teens said Obama can have little effect on gangs.
"They're not going to give up their guns. They're not going to even listen to Obama," said Brian Alexander, 16. "Some of them don't have a father in their lives, so why would they listen to the president, a man who's not in their lives either?"
Obama's proposals to strengthen gun laws would have little, if any, effect on the illegal guns on the streets, according to Tyler Minor, also 16.
"Someone will just give you a gun if they've just killed someone because they want to get rid of it," Minor said.
"When you have a gun, it makes you feel like a man because of the power of that gun," he said, explaining why some youths are drawn to weapons. "If I had the chance to talk to the president, I'd tell him to just tell people, 'You have to decide how your life goes and choose your own actions. You have to choose for yourself.'"
Though all of the teens interviewed said they had steered clear of gangs, more than half said they knew someone who had been shot or killed. Some of them have to cross gang boundaries to get to the center.
For these young men, fear is not an option. Part of growing up in a rough neighborhood, they said, means learning how to be cautious at an early age. When something is about to go down, they said, they feel it, like a sixth sense.
"They have this hard shield around them. They're not invincible, but they don't worry," said Greg Porter, an instructor in the digital imagination after-school program, which includes multimedia training and mentoring. "They talk about the violence on their block matter-of-factly, like they just went to a basketball game."
Source: Chicago Tribune | Dahleen Glanton