Stopping a fatal disease, CeaseFire’s work

Youth Summit Screens for Change

By Mark Corece

Nearly 100 Chicago Public School students banned together—stemming from over 11 organizations around the city—for Kartemquin Films youth media summit where students and their mentors watched the upcoming film The Interrupters.

The five-hour summit at Columbia College was a proactive and participatory experience for youth to be a part of the decision making process for their community and to provide insight around violence while allowing media—film in particular—to beacon the future; an upward nod contrary to some of their day to day realities.

“ [The youth] are already making five, ten, fifteen minute works about this issue,” said Justine Nagan, executive director of Kartemquinn films, “We thought what better audience to see this long form documentary and tell us what we are doing right and tell us what we could do better. “

The July 9th summit is a new endeavor that gives students an opportunity to double as consultants for the marketing and usage of the film and, simultaneously, be active voices for change.

The day’s agenda included a Q&A session with the director and co-producer, a theater-style screening of the film, breakout discussion groups, and remarks from CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, where he applauded the work being done—though he admittedly missed the screening due to a WBEZ interview—and urged community vigilance because of the 231 CPS students who were shot last school year.

Aside from the seriousness of the experience, the students, mainly youth of color, were given a unique opportunity—usually for press or special distribution company screenings—to be the first Chicago audience to see such a raw and gut-wringing film shot in their city.

The Interrupters is a documentary, directed and produced by Steve James, co-produced by Alex Kotlowitz, that chronicles the lives of three Chicago, south and west side, CeaseFire community leaders—known as interrupters—as they intervene violent conflicts, often leading to shootings and, sometimes, deaths.

Eddie Bocanegra, Ameena Matthews and Cobe Williams all use their past history of crime to curtail—often intense psycho-social interventions—turbulent feuds that are, more commonly than not, deep-seated conflicts rooted in familial instability and lack of resources—among other things

Although the subject matter provided fewer laughs than gasps and tears, the roaring applause from the audience and overall response was overwhelmingly hopeful.

“Most people might say it displays the community in a negative light but it’s just a real light,” stated Kia Smith, 16, a summit participant. “You have the good, the bad and the ugly and everyone deals with these issues in different types of ways, it’s just reality.”

While the themes dealt with in the documentary may not be foreign to a lot of Americans, it was clear that the students are in the trenches and although the names and faces may be different, they know this way of life all too well.

Tavonte Phillips, also a 16 year-old participant, gets at the silver lining and alternatives the summit and The Interrupters provide.


“I see it as people need to put bygones as bygones and people don’t see it as that,” Phillips said. “They think if one of their guys gets hurt they should retaliate and that’s not the right thing to do. If you retaliate—and you’ve already lost someone—what are you getting out of it?”


The breakout sessions allowed students to further brainstorm and examine just why one would want to retaliate with guns or anger despite the obvious consequences.


Along with their peers, the filmmakers and some of the fearless CeaseFire interrupters, students discussed options for revision in schools and the places they live in, ultimately agreeing that the power of media and using their own lenses to project onto the world will continue to help make the impact needed for a broader systemic shift.


The documentary will begin playing downtown and in theaters in Chatham and Lawndale in August.


DePaul University graduate student Mark Corece is a contributor to the We Are Not Alone project

This article appeared in the Chicago Crusader



No Comments

Add a Comment

* means field is required.

Name *

Mail *