Teens at the Table: Youth-led forum takes action to end violence - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Teens at the Table: Youth-led forum takes action to end violence

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

When it comes to youth violence, it can be argued that Chicago is past the tipping point -- we've fallen over the cliff.

On top of the shock of passing the 500 mark for murders last year, in 2010, nearly half of the people killed and nearly two-thirds of those arrested for violent crime, were under the age of 25.

The sadness, brutality, and the random senselessness of most Chicago murders is, at times, the talk of the town.

Melanie Thompson, 17, admits she wasn't moved to act until a close cousin was killed last summer.

"I'm not really sure about the story, but I know that it was nothing for him to lose his life over," Thompson says. "And then my next cousin who died very shortly after less than a month after him, was shot on his porch."

Already active in the arts, Melanie was a perfect fit for "Teens at the Table," part of an initiative by Chicago Theatre Companies, led by Steppenwolf, to empower young people to stop youth violence and intolerance.

All year, the teens have been using the stage to show how to act during conflict, and then coming to the table to work on solutions. Armed with research and passion, they're not here to complain, but to question and act.

During the final town hall meeting Monday night, the group hosted a representative from the mayor's office, the head of security for Chicago Public Schools, and a member of the media: FOX 32's Robin Robinson.

Robinson was impressed with how thoughtful and thorough the young people are. So was the mayor's deputy.

"I would just encourage others to think more about dialogue and discussion as a way to really engage on these issues that are really important," Felecia Davis said. "They deserve more than just screaming from one side to the other."

The idea is to take what they learn back to their communities. For Melanie, that's Humboldt Park, which does have a very lovely park, enjoyed by kids and families during the day. But, at night, it still has a dangerous feel.

"I have heard stories about crazy things. Like, one summer in the 80's, 70 bodies was pulled out of Humboldt Park's lake," Melanie says.

Through the theatre, Melanie has met teens from places where violence is not the norm but still realize it's a problem to be dealt with.

"The biggest thing is people aren't realizing that that's not just someone else's family, that's your family," she continues. "As Chicago, we need to be more of a community and that's the way we'll stop youth violence."

Instead of just mourning their dead friends, being afraid of random strangers, or trying to ignore what happens elsewhere, these young people are discovering the power of acting now.

"It's really scary and its really big, but I don't know, just from the things that I've been able to do, I've learned that I don't have to live in that fear and that gives me courage," Melanie says.

So what else do they do? It's not just talk. Melanie and a group of teens produced an original play at Red Orchid Theatre based on their experiences encountering violence and intolerance, called "Our City, Ourselves." It was a sold out engagement in April and May.

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