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DePaul Students Hit Streets to Compile Stories of Chicago's Youth Violence

By Paul Biasco | November 14, 2013 6:44am
 A photo from an Oct. 12 "How Long Will I Cry" reading at the Chicago Public Library's Thurgood Marshall Branch, 7506 S. Racine Ave.
A photo from an Oct. 12 "How Long Will I Cry" reading at the Chicago Public Library's Thurgood Marshall Branch, 7506 S. Racine Ave.
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K.G. Wassus

LINCOLN PARK — There were 965 murders in Chicago between 2011 and the end of 2012  — many in neighborhoods that Miles Harvey's DePaul University students had never heard of.

Over that two-year period, Harvey and his students went into the neighborhoods with a goal of collecting first-person accounts of how the city's violence in recent years, in particular youth violence, affects the victims, their families and ordinary citizens of Chicago.

The end product is a compilation of 35 stories bound under the title, "How Long Will I Cry?"

The storytellers include the woman who carried 16-year-old Derrion Albert's limp body from a Roseland street in 2009, a 17-year-old West Side high school student who is in hiding from his former gang, and Dr. Nancy L. Jones, the former chief Cook County medical examiner.

 The book cover of "How Long Will I Cry?"
The book cover of "How Long Will I Cry?"
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"The big goal after a while was to measure the human cost of street violence in the city, and I think we did that," Harvey said. 

The stories of the book were captured by a wide range of DePaul students, both graduate and undergraduate.

For undergraduate Jacob Sabolo, an English literature student, traveling into Rogers Park to hear 42-year-old Pamela Hester-Jones' story was nerve-wracking.

He had never conducted an in-person interview, had never met Hester-Jones and was about to dive deep into the 2007 day when her 13-year-old son was beat to death on an Albany Park street corner.

He was shaking while driving, going over and over the questions in his head he hoped to ask, and coming from a small farming town in southern Illinois, didn't know what to expect.

Hester-Jones' story is one of regret for letting her son leave the house, the sadness of holding his cold feet in the hospital and the frustration of knowing his killers are still on the street.

While Hester-Jones told her story to Sabolo, she started to break down and cry, so he went with his gut instinct and held her hand.

"I didn't push her for anything else until she was ready," Sabolo said. "That established some kind of trust between us."

The stories in the book, which Harvey is giving out for free thanks to outside funding from the DePaul University Vincentian Endowment Fund and the William and Irene Beck Foundation, are so intimate that many have never been told in such detail.

Some of the subjects chose to change their names to protects themselves.

For LaDawn Norwood, a former DePaul graduate student who now directs teen programs for the YMCA, hearing the tales of violence brought her back to her youth in the city.

She remembered going to basketball games and the ice cream shop.

The story she heard was of an 18-year-old Humboldt Park student who was trying to escape the violent community that surrounds him.

Norwood heard stories of friends and family members dying, fear of walking down the street and the difficulties of high school in a violent community.

"That just made me think they are too young to have these stories and struggles in life," said Norwood, who lives in Chatham. "They even said, 'I've never talked to anyone about this' or 'This is my first time sharing this.' They just wanted someone to listen."

So far, Harvey has given out about 2,500 copies of the book and has another 5,000 on hand.

It is the first book published by DePaul University's new Big Shoulders Books press.

Requests have been coming in from all over the country from inner-city after-school programs, libraries, high schools and even police departments.

"I had a cop saying, 'Hey, I want some cops I know to read this because they need to understand the people they are dealing with,' " Harvey said.

Violence makes the news in Chicago daily, and more recently Chicago's violence has again gained the national spotlight.

People he's spoken to around the country are curious to hear the real stories, according to Harvey.

A few of the stories were condensed into a play that was performed at the Steppenwolf Theater in the spring to critical acclaim.

The book contains all of the stories.

For some of the students who conducted interviews and heard their fellow students retell the stories they had collected, their views of Chicago have been changed forever.

"There were a couple points where I was just speechless," Sabolo said. "It's changed my perspective of Chicago."

Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the book can request a copy at bigshouldersbooks.com.