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Courtesy of Chanta Williams

Chanta Williams, a native of Englewood and a scholarship recipient from Chicago Scholars, says she witnessed the effects of youth violence and, since then, has vowed to support students wishing to escape economic disparities.

Chicago scholar: Education to fight youth violence

by Lahaina Mae B. Mondonedo
Oct 29, 2009

Is poverty the origin of youth violence? How about mental health issues? Is it lack of education?

The answer is probably a combination of all three, and differs in specific instances, but for several Chicago academic scholars and leaders in area scholarship programs, the third question plays a key role.

The experts stressed the importance of academic opportunities as a tool to target youth violence.

Chanta Williams, a scholarship recipient said she grew up having to face violence every day.

“Youth violence is a salient issue that resonates with me because of my experience living in the Englewood community,” Williams said.

A senior at Spelman College in Atlanta, Williams said that it is very unfortunate that Chicago is in the spotlight for its youth violence, especially since 16-year-old Derrion Albert was beaten to death on his way home from school on the South Side.

“There are definitely a disproportionate number of stories involving violent teens instead of victorious teens who have survived seemingly unbeatable odds,” Williams said.

As one of those victorious teens, Williams attributed her academic and personal successes to her scholarship.

“It is very apparent that pipeline programs, peer support and positive images of young people can play an integral role in deterring youth violence in Chicago.”

Yaneth Bello, a Chicago Public Schools career coach and a former scholarship recipient said that putting an end to youth violence is easier said than done.

“I don’t think there is a single solution,” Bello said.

Bello, who grew up in Pilsen, said that although scholarship programs give bright kids a ticket out of unfortunate situations, the option is limited to the bright kids.

“You need a GPA of 1.5 to 2.5 to qualify for most scholarships,” Bello said, “what happens to kids who don’t qualify but really need our help?”

In 2006, the violent crime arrest rate was highest for males ages 15-19 years with a rate of 729.9 per 100,000 according to the most recent national statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This summary concludes there are an alarming number of violent youth crimes.

Al Dybsky, a board member at an organization that works on education issues, says that troubled youth need to be given better options than violence.

“Sometimes they don’t have a choice but to join a gang,” Dybsky said. “We work with them to give them choices and re-engage them with the community.”

Dybsky’s group, Chicago Hope, is a nonprofit organization aimed at giving underprivileged youth the opportunity to change their lives through education. The program is targeted at college students but is being developed for all levels.

The two-pronged program provides scholarships and has bi-monthly mentoring sessions with their scholars.

Karen Foley, president of an organization central to this issue, Chicago Scholars, agreed with this approach.

“We have methodology mentoring that can change the outcome of violence of the city,” Foley said. “When you’re educated, you can really create options for yourself.”

Foley said that there great kids in terrible neighborhoods. Chicago Scholars' mission is to find those children and give them the means to have better choices to make, show them that it is worth it to get an education.

“It is worth [it] to be in school. It is worth [it] to be off the streets,” Foley said. “The Chicago way is not violent.”

Earlier this week, Chicago Scholars conducted an admissions forum, at which 260 students from 86 Chicago high schools had total of 1,100 face-to-face interviews with 65 college representatives. More than $1 million worth of scholarships was up for grabs in one day.