“Yeah, somebody got shot while we were in there. On A block,” said Latee, now 16, pointing at himself as he slurped a plastic pouch of fruit punch. “A block” meant West Adams Street, a half-mile away, where he used to sell drugs.
Latee was doing whatever he could think of to avoid that life. He stayed off his old street corners and learned to say no when his boys prodded him to hang out. Latee often bickered with his girlfriend, but he grew to depend on her. She insisted that he come see her more often because she figured at her house, watching a Wayans brothers’ movie on the couch, he was safe. She logged onto his Facebook page and erased his old street name, and he blocked the accounts of enemy gang members who wanted to add him as a friend only so they could make threats. He improved his grades, got counseling and started a paid apprenticeship that taught him and other wounded Chicago teens how to blow glass. He spent almost every afternoon at the youth center, alone if he had to, watching rap videos on YouTube.
Latee was popular — with long hair, high cheekbones and an endearing gaptoothed smile — but didn’t talk much. Nicknamed Peewee since infancy, Latee, at 5-foot-6, had always been one of the smallest kids in class, and yet, he’d become one of the most disciplined. Nearly dying had fueled his resolve to stay alive.
“I’m lucky I got shot,” he said. “The bullet made me more mature. Smarter.”
But the first week of summer had arrived, and Latee knew that when classes ended in Chicago, shootings often spiked in the long, hot, empty days that followed. June was already on its way to becoming the city’s deadliest month for children in more than 15 years, with one being killed, on average, every other day.
“Happens all the time. Nonstop,” said Martin Anguiano, a program manager for Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development, better known as BUILD Chicago. The organization runs the youth center and has worked with the…