CHICAGO (WLS) — Growing up in some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods isn’t easy.
“You gotta know what to do and what not to do,” said Kaitlyn Stewart, 16, of Englewood. “You gotta let your parents know where you are at all times.”
“When a car rides past them, having to turn their head and just make sure that nothing’s getting ready to happen,” explains Pha’tal Perkins, founder and executive director of Think Outside Da Block.
That kind of daily stress can take its toll both physically and mentally. That is where Gotcha Mind Right comes in. The program provides professional mental health therapy for Chicago teens who grow up in violent neighborhoods.
“They would not have access to a private practice clinician under any other circumstance and so I wanted them to have a first-class experience and introduce them to therapy,” said Dr. Nyela Malone, CEO of Lotus Healing.
For some of the young people, opening up takes time.
“When I first came, I was shy to talk and through a couple of weeks I got better and I got new coping mechanisms,” said 14-year-old Mikel Robinson.
The need for healthy, productive coping methods is something those at Getcha Mind Right understand firsthand. The organization is run by Perkins and the Think Outside Da Block group. Perkins was born and raised in Englewood.
“By the time I graduated high school, I had lost 9 friends to violence and two committed suicide,” said Perkins. “There was never any mental health services or counseling or anything offered to me or my peers so I had to learn how to deal with it, how to get through it how to grow through it, on my own.”
That’s why Perkins has teenagers meeting twice a week. Group therapy on Mondays and Saturdays, more hands-on activities. Just recently some of the kids took center stage at the Englewood Peace Fest.
Ashiya Williams, 16, joined other girls for a poetry slam reading “Even when I fall I always get up. Wanna know why? I’m just a little Black girl, strong enough for you, strong enough for me, strong enough for all of us. And I want the world to see I’m just a little black girl in a big crazy world.
But at the end of the day, the kids are proud of their roots and most of all their neighborhood.
“Growing up in Englewood is kind of tricky, but it’s home, it’s love.” said 16-year-old Nylah Burley.
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