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Losing Our Children: Julian and Lazarus

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Losing Our Children: Julian and Lazarus

Youth involved with Alternatives, Inc.

This summer, Chicago Public Radio is looking at how individuals and communities are impacted by acts of violence against young people and how they respond. Nearly three dozen public school students in Chicago have been killed over the past year, many by gang violence and crossfire. Chicago Public Radio’s Jay Field reports on how one killing has reverberated in the life of an eleven year-old boy.

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The 39th floor atrium of the Chicago law firm Barack, Ferrazzano, Kirschbaum and Nagleberg has stunning, panoramic views. Rail lines roll on endlessly to the south. Lake Michigan’s blue waters glisten beyond the skyscrapers.

It’s an ideal spot for a party—and the other night—a soft-spoken seventh grader found himself nibbling hors d’ oeuvres and mingling with attorneys in crisp suits and bright ties.

JULIAN BAKER: Hi. I’m Julian. I’m eleven years old. I go to Kilmer Elementary. And I live in Rogers Park.

Julian Baker belongs to Alternatives, Inc. The youth group works to keep kids away from gangs and off the streets—with the help of donors like this law firm. Julian’s here to tell this group of high-powered lawyers about a cold February night that changed his life.

JULIAN BAKER: My friend Lazarus Jones got his head beat in with a blunt object on the corner of Kedzie and Albany.

His friend’s death triggered a transformation in Julian. The two boys had bonded playing baseball on the fields near Amundsen High School on the city’s North Side. Lazarus’s murder hit Julian at a vulnerable time. He’d already had been struggling in school and getting in trouble for several years.

JULIAN BAKER: Yeah, I got suspended like every other day or in trouble. Sixth grade, it was going on in fifth or fourth as well.

Julian’s confrontational behavior had been worrying his father. John Baker says he couldn’t help but wonder whether he and his wife’s fights were hurting his son.

JOHN BAKER: If he is confrontational with his peers, I think I have to take some responsibility for that. Because he learns his ways of handling conflict from me. My wife and I might not think anything about yelling at each other. It’s over fast. But then the kids think that’s okay. Yelling.

Julian’s father is white. His mother’s black. And his racially ambiguous features made him a target for both the black-run Gangster Disciples and the Hispanic Latin Kings.

JOHN BAKER: His older brother had to deal with that, his cousin. I remember having to ask his older brother, my stepson, how come you only have red and black on when you go outside?

Julian’s brother had joined a gang. John Baker didn’t want to see the same thing happen to his youngest son. So he enrolled him at Alternatives, where he started to learn how to handle conflict with dialogue and negotiation. Things began to improve. Then, everything changed.

CLTV NEWS REPORT: Thirteen-year-old Lazarus Jones died early Thursday, after receiving a beating with a blunt object here at the corner of Lawrence and Troy Monday night. Police say it was a gang related fight….

JULIAN BAKER: Cause I just remember just, like, thinkin’. I tried to sit down and just like think for a minute, just chill out. And I started thinking about stuff and I thought of Lazarus. Like it made me upset and stuff. Somebody walked past me and said something to me and I got upset and threw a pencil at them. And it escalated more stuff.

Julian’s behavior became so disruptive he was asked to leave Alternatives more than once. Running out of chances, he joined a gang violence prevention project at the agency. And finally, something clicked.

JULIAN BAKER: The leader of Alternatives, he told us about a five-thousand dollar grant.

Julian and the other kids on the project took action and sent a proposal to the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority.

JULIAN BAKER: We sat down and thought about how to get the message across about the youth gang violence and how its effecting people. We were going to do a documentary, but then we thought about how much trouble it would be to get the cameras. And so then we were just sitting down, thinking about what a lot of people use, and then we thought of the CTA.

ARTIST: I’m going to photograph each piece and then the printer is going to send you guys a proof and that’s the final version before it goes to print.

The grant was approved. Artist Melanie Indeena is helping Julian’s class put the finishing touches on a unique billboard ad. On one half are photos of police, throwing cuffs on alleged gang members, on the other, photos of kids with family and friends. Between the spreads--in gang-style graffiti--a question reads: How do you reduce youth gang violence?

JULIAN BAKER: When we did our surveys, some people didn’t even know about gangs. But then some people knew about gangs, but didn’t know how to stop and didn’t really care about stopping.

Julian hopes the billboard ad will change at least a few minds. It will debut this week on fifty red line trains and fifty CTA buses. As for Julian himself, both his father and his teachers say he’s grown up. He says… he’s more respectful. But no matter how far he’s come, he still thinks about Lazarus’s death.

JULIAN BAKER: It made me think about how much careful I have to be about where I am and I have to be smart about what I do. It made me feel like I have to change my ways and not misbehave because life is short.

Julian’s friend Lazarus Jones is just one of the nearly three dozen Chicago Public Schools students to die violently over the past year. Police still haven’t caught the people who fatally beat Lazarus with a hammer and their fists on that cold night back in February.

I’m Jay Field, Chicago Public Radio.

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