When Sandra Lira’s teachers asked her to create a picture expressing how gun violence would shape her future, Sandra, 12, drew herself with long dark hair flanked by angel’s wings, reaching down from heaven to console weeping family members visiting a cemetery.
Around the images, she wrote, “Gun laws need to change,” and, in red, “We are the ones dying.”
The Richard J. Daley Elementary Academy seventh-graders’ work is the outgrowth of an art program about gun violence. Several of them already had first-hand experience with the problem when gunmen opened fired last month at a park across the street from the school, injuring 13 people, including a 3-year-old who was shot in the face.
The students worked with Daley Academy’s art teacher, language arts teacher and the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence to create original artwork expressing their views on the effects of gun violence. On Thursday, they exhibited their work at Daley Academy.
Daqwon Sanders, 14, and Juliana Morales, 11, live just down the street from Cornell Square Park, where the shooting occurred. They heard the screams and gunshots and ran inside, Daqwon said.
He drew a self-portrait, his face surrounded by gray figures committing acts of violence.
“These are the things I see and have to think about,” Sanders said.
Juliana drew a scene similar to the Cornell Square Park shooting. Basketball players lay in pools of blood on the ground before a man brandishing a gun. On the other half of the page, she drew the park years later, run-down and abandoned because people are too afraid to visit.
Immediately after the shooting, the school canceled recess, said Daley Academy principal Rhonda Hoskins. Recess has since returned, but students have regular drills teaching them what to do if they hear shots and several said they are still nervous about visiting the park.
But last month’s shooting wasn’t the first time the students confronted violence. When Sandra Lira’s neighbor was shot in February, she said, she could hear the gunfire. Sirell Bell, 12, said his grandmother and uncle were both shot by the time he turned 3.
Bell drew a comic book-style story depicting a gangster who kills a girl walking down the street and is then killed in retaliation.
“I wanted to show how gun violence can cause more violence,” said Bell.
Taniah Cook, 12, said she witnessed a shooting while walking to a neighborhood store with a friend last summer. They were nervous enough to stay inside, but only for about two hours.
“We’re getting used to it because it keeps happening,” said Taniah, who titled her work, “What Will My Future Be?
She said the violence has been getting worse. “It wasn’t so bad before because they’d tell the women and kids to go inside,” she said. “Now, they don’t care who they shoot.”
Tania added that Deonta Howard, the 3-year-old shot at Cornell Square Park, is her best friend’s nephew.
But Juliana Morales thinks change is possible. She hopes to be a police officer or join the Air Force and spread the word about how gun violence affects communities.
“Even if things are bad, once you get older it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come back and try to make a difference,” Morales said.
Ald. Willie Cochran, 20th, said their work also demonstrated the need to make counseling available to children who’ve experience violence. “We don’t want them to grow up to think this is a normal way of life,” Cochran said.
Chicago Police Department Commander Joseph Gorman said the students’ art was “a reality check.”
“You are the voice of Chicago, and a picture can tell a thousand words,” Gorman told the students.