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Marissa Mitchell/MEDILL

Chicago Freedom School Co-Founder Mariame Kaba leads discussion on youth violence at a social activist forum Sunday in Chicago.

There were more victims than Derrion Albert, and educators hope to help them

by Marissa Mitchell
Nov 24, 2009

Derrion Albert is the name we know. But what about Eric Carson? Ring a bell?

Carson is the 16-year-old who landed the first blow on Albert with that wooden plank. His story, for obvious reasons, wasn’t covered to the same extent.

But teachers and social activists met over the weekend to talk about Carson and tragedies that encircle both victims and perpetrators of violence during a recent forum at the Teachers for Social Justice Conference in Chicago.

During a session called “Why did Derrion Die,” co-founder of the Chicago Freedom School Mariame Kaba said Carson spent nine months in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center before brutally beating Albert. Carson had only been at Fenger High School for two weeks and, she said, probably battled his own emotional turmoil.

Her conversations with students about Albert’s death led her to launch a youth-led curriculum, geared toward helping teachers and organization leaders analyze the root causes of and solutions to youth violence. The Chicago Freedom School, Teachers for Social Justice and the Chicago Youth Igniting Change organizations are drafting the curriculum. It will be available online at the beginning of next year.

She put the question to the participants.

The answers were “alienation from society,” “lack of power,” “poverty and no jobs.”

Youth mentor Carlos Contreras attributed a lot of the violence to trapped anger inside male students. For two years, he headed a mentoring group at Pedro Albizu Campos High School, an alternative high school in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. He said some students were expelled because of bad behavior.

“What’s the alternative to the alternative?” he asked after the session.

Contreras said teachers have two battles to fight: the one to connect with troubled students as well as the one on the streets.

“Natural leaders end up of fighting for [students] just as much as the drug dealers and gang leaders,” he said. “We end up fighting and sometimes losing.”

Loyola University student Shykira Richards said she was bothered by the media’s repeated reference to Albert as an honor roll student. She said that children who have criminal or violent backgrounds would feel as though their lives aren’t as valuable.

“They’re still a child. They're still a human being, and they lost their life to violence at a young age. They did have a family and parents,” Richards said. “Stop trying to justify how wrong this person’s death was because he was an honor roll student. A life is a life.”

And Kaba said she hopes teenagers and adults will benefit from the curriculum. It’s important for adults to look at their part in or lack of engagement in issues concerning the Derrion Alberts and Eric Carsons of the world, she said.

“I think the stories are more complicated than we know. And getting people to say that, whether they are adults or youth,” Kaba said, “we have to take our own responsibility within this situation. And step up to it and know that the children come from us.”