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 Layton Ehmke/MEDILL

Anti-violence program targets youth on the cusp.

Student sees violence stop -- starting with his own fists

by Layton Ehmke
Nov 19, 2009

Sixteen-year-old Brandon Diaz is the poster boy for an anti-violence program launched this month in 15 Chicago Public Schools. He used to smash lockers at school. Yell at his teachers. Avoid his mother.

After going through the eight-month program, Becoming A Man, Diaz says he’s earning better grades. He’s not punching lockers any more – he hits a punching bag. He smiles when he talks about his progress. He has a plan for his future.

Diaz is the outcome that leaders intend to get from the hundreds of other young men in the coming months as youth anti-violence programs are unrolled across Chicago.

Once students are in the program, they meet with counselors during the school day for one hour per week. The program combines counseling, non-traditional sports and martial arts. The groups of 15 to 20 students at each school are targeted as at risk.

Tony Di Vittorio, a counselor with Youth Guidance, said he developed what he calls a character-building program for boys on the cusp of failing. He said after students make it through the program, they take a calmer approach to the aggravations in their lives, and take responsibility for their actions.

This week the University of Chicago expands the program from Roberto Clemente High School to 14 other schools.