Shot’s Fired! Building a Generation of First Responders

Navigator Editor’s Note:  Kimberly Hopson sat down with Alumna Amber Banks to talk about her experience in school and as a Civic Engagement intern.  After losing more than a few friends to gun violence this year, ‘shots fired!’ has become a part of Amber’s daily reality. In the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, Amber described a tree surrounded by stuffed animals, candles, and pictures near her home that memorializes a deceased youth.  She and her peers have continuously experienced the mourning of relatives and friends, yet have adjusted their reality to react to the loss of young people to gun violence as commonplace occurrences akin to the resounding blare of fireworks on July 4, the awakening buzz of alarm clocks in the morning, or the familiar shrill of school bells ringing in the halls.

Amber credits her experiences, as a YCCS civic engagement intern, for helping her find and use her inner voice to respond to injustices, and putting her on the right path. Amber began as an intern in the 2016-17 school year with Westside Holistic Leadership Academy (now YCCS-West) and continues to work with the civic engagement interns as an alumna.

“I am proud to be a YCCS graduate and a second-year Civic Engagement Intern,” Amber shared, “If it were not for this experience, I would not be aware of the deafening noises of violence which have been muted by antipathy, helplessness, and hopelessness.”

“The YCCS Internship has helped me come up with solutions to not only stop gun violence but to also get my peers to be more aware and join the movement to help stop it,” Amber proudly stated. “Exposure to civics was part of my awakening. Internship participants learned their rights as citizens, duties to their community and the impact of their voting power on politics and legislation.”

“Ultimately, we are the voice for our peers,” Amber continued, “this internship helped young people like me, ages 16-21, become aware of the political system. As we vote each year for our president, governor, mayor, and city council members, we determine who should be in office and who will represent our voice.  Being an intern also gave me more insight into what’s going on around me. I can proudly say, I’ve become more aware. Because of the program, I have become more independent and more outspoken about situations regarding politics, education, and violence. I learned that all of these issues are connected, whether we are aware of it or not.”

“I gained insight about my peers and my community, about the systemic issues that promote gun violence, and the political process. As a team, we interns reached out and made calls to our aldermen, joined press conferences and public meetings to voice our opinions, and we registered student voters, encouraging them to get out to the polls! It was eye-opening!”

Reflecting on her path moving forward Amber responded, “Our first step is to start making changes by confronting the issues in our own communities and schools, and then work our way up. Our voices must be heard! That is why being an intern was revealing. I wouldn’t have learned as much as I know now without it. I had amazing mentors and inspiring colleagues, which made this experience even greater. I’m so grateful and blessed to be a part of something that not only changed my life, but also the other interns and the lives of the people we touch.”

After graduating, Amber was not sure of her next steps. Now, she plans to attend Malcolm X College to study nursing, building on the pharmacy technology training she received while attending Westside Holistic Leadership Academy (now YCCS-West). “Interning has made me want to continue being involved in meeting the needs of Black and Brown people, to change systems of oppression throughout our nation, and to inform others about the importance of voting so their voices can be heard.”