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Chicago Murder Victims Remembered with Student-Built Sculpture

By Darryl Holliday | June 21, 2013 8:18am
 Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep students unveiled an art exhibit Thursday to increase awareness of violence. The piece honors all 506 murder victims of 2012
506 Shoes for 506 Victims: Brooks College Prep Students Exhibit a Memorial
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ROSELAND — Students at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep thought long and hard about how to best visualize violence in their communities for an art exhibit in their school.

They considered candles, one of the teens said. Balloons, footprints, a collection of buttons and bottles hanging from a nearby fence were other plans that didn't make the final cut.

The class of about 25 students eventually decided on shoes — 506 pairs of shoes painted white in honor of the 506 murder victims in 2012.

"It makes you connect with each person," Kennedee Lakes, 17, said. "The problem is that crime doesn't personally affect us. You don't get involved in discussions about it every day."

The students' art sculpture is based on awareness, four core members of the Brooks class said.

Three of those teens are Chicago natives who said the impact of violence hits as early as sixth grade.

"You should still be innocent at that age, but you're not," said Nicole Gardner, 18. "When we were younger we could go out and play — [but later] we could only be safe in the backyard."

"Now you need a whole army behind you to go to the park," Demetrius Smith, 18, added.

The concept for the sculpture evolved over about three months, the teens said. Planning involved research into news coverage of the victims' lives, including statistics on violence citywide.

The group then set out the gather 1,012 shoes from their fellow students — a process that took longer than expected — followed by nearly four weeks of construction on the final exhibit.

"It was a matter of integrity to make it happen," said Cheryl Boone, the students' art teacher. "It turned out to be a whole school effort."

After hearing of the death of baby Jonylah Watkins, Boone decided to create a way for the community to be aware of not only the 6-month-old's death, but also the victims of Chicago's gun violence who received less attention.

The exhibit, located in a brightly-lit hallway at Brooks was unveiled Thursday to a celebration of student-led performances.

"It's important that people do something other than talk about [violence]. This is our start ... It starts with a love for education," said 16-year-old Sarina Shane, who wants to be a third-grade teacher.

"Maybe we can reduce these shoes," Smith said.