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September 9, 2012

Holy Angels students take action on violence

Michael Mills hands out purple ribbons to Betty Zoumah and other parishioners following a Sunday Family Mass at Holy Angels Parish on March 18. The distribution of ribbons at Mass was one of the SAVE initiatives. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Jamie Brown, Breoni Smith, Amari Williams, Christian Hayes and DeMariye Williams, all 8th grade students at Holy Angels School in Chicago, speak about a classmate who was killed last year during an end of school year rally against violence at 63rd Ave. beach in Chicago on May 14. The rally focused on prayer for a blessed and peaceful summer for school age children and their families. More than 530 students and their chaperones from nine Chicago Catholic schools participated. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

Darius Brown, an eighth-grade student at Holy Angels School was gunned down on Aug. 3 in a Chicago park. The Black Catholic Deacons of Chicago hosted five back to school sunrise prayer services on Aug. 27, 2011 to pray for non-violence during the 2011-2012 school year. The five prayer services were held at various beaches throughout Chicago to prayer for different forms of violence, including: Rainbow Beach (gang violence), 63rd Street Beach (bullying), Oakwood Beach (street violence), 31st Street Beach (domestic violence) and 12th street beach (racism). Karen Callaway / Catholic New World

By Michelle Martin

STAFF WRITER

It was less than a month before school started, in August 2011, that 13-year-old Darius Brown was gunned down while playing basketball at Metcalfe Park, a couple of blocks from his home. He would have been an eighth-grader and graduated from Holy Angels School last spring.

Instead of graduating with him, his classmates had to find a way to remember him.

“What made us want to do this is we were all devastated when we heard this on the news, so we decided we wanted to start SAVE to end the violence in Chicago,” said Kyle Schaffer, now an eighth-grader at Holy Angels, 750 E. 40th St.

What the students did was found one of two Chicago chapters of Students Against Violence Everywhere, a national organization that started 22 years ago in North Carolina in the wake of another senseless killing of a teenager. The other is at Hyde Park Academy, a public high school.

The SAVE network was organized specifically to give young people a voice in finding ways to end violence through conflict management, crime prevention and service projects.

They hope they are not the only Catholic school chapter in Chicago for much longer.

“I think SAVE has been a big turning point for this school now,” Kyle said. “Now we’re becoming more of a role model. If we could reach out to the other Catholic schools, it would make a huge difference.”

His classmate, Alexandria Erves, said having a year of experience will help them move forward.

“Last year, we had everybody hyped and wondering what we were going to do next,” she said. “This year, there will be an even bigger impact.”

Seventh- and eighth-graders who joined the club last year all signed SAVE’s pledge to be non-violent and planned monthly activities and rallies to promote non-violence in their school and in their community.

This year, the students hope to kick off with their activities by hosting a block party in September that would feature speakers including religious leaders, rappers who promote non-violence and police officials.

They also want to have a march around the block and continue working with their peers in seventh- and eighth-grade and with the younger students in the schools, said eighth-grader Daria Hill.

While membership in the Holy Angels chapter of SAVE is limited to seventh- and eighth-graders, the group reaches out to younger students, doing skits and leading role-playing exercises, and to the wider parish community.

“We let them know who we are and tell them what stuff is going on in our community and how we can stop it,” said eighth - grader Adaam Stone. “We let them know that violence isn’t good. It’s tearing the community apart. We try to convince them to convince other people that it’s not good.”

Teresa Gill, wife of Holy Angels Deacon Leroy Gill, is the SAVE group’s advisor, and she has offered presentations on the program at Parish Leadership Day and other events, in hopes other schools or parishes will pick it up.

She said SAVE fit the Holy Angels’ needs by giving students a positive way to respond to the violence that took Darius’s life and continues to harm young people, and that it was simple and inexpensive, which should make it more attractive to other Catholic schools.

Gill said that any solution to the violence in Chicago has to involve the young people.

“They see the violence, they know what’s going on, and it bothers them,” she said.