More Than 2,000 High School Students Spread Scrutiny On Chicago Gun Violence Murders Since 2016

Ariel Parrella-Aureli
September 16, 2019 - 12:19 pm

JOLIET, Ill. (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Thousands of hats perched on wooden sticks line a soccer field, stopping passersby, athletes, community members and coaches in Joliet to take in the scene.

The 2,400 hats were donated from 2,400 student high school students from 72 Chicago-area schools who delivered one winter hat and $1 each to bring attention to the same amount of murders during a high school career in four years, from 2016 to 2019.

The hat installation is sponsored by Buddy’s HELPERS and The PepsiCo Showdown Series, the largest high school sports series in the U.S. It focuses on partnering with different student athletes in the Chicago area to combine sports with social justice.

“We partnered with the PepsiCo Showdown Series to use the power of sport to drive continued awareness, education, engagement and impact around this crisis in Chicago,” said Joe Trost, Executive Director at Buddy’s HELPERS. “Just like professional franchises and players in our city, these student athletes want to make a difference on and off the field, too.” 

The 150-yard-long installation, at Inwood Complex at the Joliet Park District, is not just for awareness and to make a bold statement. The hats and donations will be given to Chicago homeless shelters on the South and West Sides and help children stay warm as winter approaches. A fat check will be part of a separate surprise delivery to a Chicago afterschool program on the South and West Sides, Trost said.

Throughout the next couple of days, he said Buddy’s HELPERS will keep the hats on the field for people to add to the collection and continue to donate.

Trost said that while some people may only see the sports aspect to events like this, the organization saw the chance to engage and educate with thousands of student athletes who have a chance to be future business and community leaders.

“It was a very powerful moment to see all the hats, because you knew they represented people of all ages — many innocent children, in some cases,” he said. “Now those hats will help enhance the lives of those in need and hopefully provide some warm comfort as fall and winter approaches.”

Angel Arismendiz, a senior at Washington High School in Chicago, was one of the soccer athletes who donated a hat and a dollar. He will attend Valparaiso University next year and play soccer. 

He said bringing awareness to Chicago’s gun violence is bigger than any game he has played and is an issue that can unite all students, no matter their background or education.

“We were brought together by this sport and the PepsiCo Showdown to make a difference,” Arismendiz said. “This issue is much bigger than any game we’ve ever played in. To know that 2,400 people have been murdered since I’ve been in high school, it’s just sad to know that many people have died in such a short amount of time.”

The staggering murder rate, which is according to Chicago Police and Chicago Tribune’s data, represents more than the total enrollment at high schools throughout the Chicagoland area, Trost said.

However, police note that murder rates are lower than they were in 2016. According to Chicago Police data, murders and shootings are at a four-year low through the first seven months of 2019, with 286 homicides this year, per the Chicago Sun-Times.

The 43 murders and 231 shootings reported in July alone were also the lowest for the month since 2016, and down from 64 murders and 264 shootings last year, police said.

But even though the murders may be declining, messages about gun violence through art, sports and other social justice efforts are omnipresent and can be espeically impactful for the next generation and those mentoring them.

Sseeing the visual statement with hats lining the soccer field was a powerful image for West Chicago boys soccer coach Jose Villa said.

“I’m a visual learner and seeing that makes it more powerful than hearing the numbers all the time on the news,” Villa said. “I know some of the boys also see that and are able to see a visual representation and then it sinks in differently. This also goes to show what kids can accomplish by working together to achieve a goal and sending this message.”