Like many of the young people who are heading to Washington, D.C., for Saturday’s protest against gun violence, Dantrell Blake and Deshon Hannah are concerned about deadly school shootings.
But Blake, 21, and Hannah, 20, also have very personal reasons for attending.
Both were shot as teens on the streets of Chicago; Blake still has a bullet lodged in his left leg because doctors determined that removing it would damage bone. His cousin Hannah was hit with 30 buckshot pellets, 24 of which remain in his body.
“I want to be a part of a change in history,” said Blake, a Back of the Yards resident who works as a peer counselor at the hospital-based violence prevention program Healing Hurt People Chicago. “What I’ve gone through is traumatizing, but it makes you want to be part of something more.”
Hannah, also a peer counselor at Healing Hurt People, is particularly concerned about assault rifles: “They shouldn’t be on the streets, because it’s messing up, like, generations,” he said.
“The next generation after us — they probably will have to worry about watching over their backs ’cause somebody’s trying to kill them.”
Blake and Hannah, who were both treated at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, will be attending the march along with Stroger trauma surgeon Dr. Faran Bokhari, who sees 1,000 gunshot wounds a year, and Andy Wheeler and Carol Reese, trauma social workers at Stroger.
During a recent interview at the oldest firehouse in Chicago, where both men blow glass and do peer counseling, Blake and Hannah were open and upbeat about the progress they’ve made. At the times they were shot, Blake at 18, Hannah at 16, both were involved in the small neighborhood gangs that are almost obligatory in Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods, they said.
But with help and support, they’ve changed direction.
Healing Hurt People, a partnership between Stroger and the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, offers intensive case management for young people injured by violence, including help with coping skills, education plans and employment. The program connected Blake and Hannah with Project FIRE, an art development program for violence victims where they’ve learned glass-blowing techniques.
Blake, who arrived at the interview in a Chicago Bulls hoodie and track pants, has been commissioned through Project FIRE to make 23 intricate cherry-red bull heads out of glass. Hannah sold a glass eagle and, during an interview at the 1873 firehouse that’s home to Project FIRE, he got up to retrieve another finished blown-glass work: a speckled glass bunny with impressively delicate ears.
“I recently graduated high school, something I never thought I’d do,” said Hannah.
“I had a lot of people who helped me. I had a mentor; (she) was on me. When I got shot, I wasn’t in school, so after I got shot, I (thought) I can’t keep living this lifestyle, you know?”
Among his motivations: He wanted to make his mother proud.
“I’m the first out of her kids to graduate,” he said. “I really did it because I’ve got a little brother and two little sisters behind me. I did it for them, so they can have somebody to look up to.”
Both men said they’re looking forward to Saturday’s march.
“I’ve never been to a big march, so I want to get that feeling: to see what it is to be with a whole bunch of people marching on some positive stuff,” Blake said.
“And then I just want to meet people, meet new people and network with them and let them know what’s going on in my city and what good I want to come out of this: a new bill or something like that. Something big.”