Meet Lateefah - A Chicago Teen You Should Know

Meet Lateefah - A Chicago Teen You Should Know
Photo courtesy of Lateefah Williams

The media has no shortage of reports on violence. For every article or news story, the masses call out that "someone needs to do something!" Well, lots of someones already are. More amazing than the adults that are doing something (often through careers - court advocates, teachers, social workers, etc.), are the teens that are working against violence in the city that they call home. Lateefah Williams is one of those teens and her story of advocacy is something everyone should know and share.

Lateefah is a 12th grader at Little Black Pearl Art & Design Academy. She sought out a service learning opportunity at The Anti-Cruelty Society because she "loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian." She came across the Society's anti-violence after school program, "Exploring the Link", and applied to attend the 45-hour program so she could learn to advocate against violence in all its forms. She didn't come to a program that a parent or teacher made her attend - she loves animals so she sought out opportunities on the Society's website on her own.

Lateefah's culminating project for the program was a presentation on domestic violence. She wanted everyone to know the cycle in abusive relationships so loved ones could recognize and intervene. She wanted to empower anyone in an abusive relationship to see that it is not love. Lateefah spoke about resilience in front of a full auditorium and I know that she is going to continue on a path of being an advocate against violence.

Some may wonder why a program like this exists at an animal shelter. There is a researched and documented connection between animal cruelty and other forms of violence. Knowing that youth are drawn to animals, the Society created a pro-active program that teaches teens about the various forms of violence and intervention strategies and then empowers the youth to act as advocates through training in public speaking, career exploration - and they get to interact with kitties and doggies.

When she's not at the Society or in school, Lateefah loves dancing (hip hop), reading, and glass blowing (how cool that Little Black Pearl has glass blowing for teens!). Participating in community-based after school programs gets teens out into different neighborhoods, exposes them to mentors, and enables them to channel energy into positive outlets. In December, the University of Chicago Crime Lab and the University of Pennsylvania published a study that showed how a summer jobs program decreased youth violence in Chicago. After school programs also provide teens with mentors and similar opportunities presented by summer jobs.

Getting There is Part of the Battle

On the days that her mother couldn't give her a lift, Lateefah traveled after school over 45 minutes each way on public transit to get to the program at the Society. The program provides public transit cards for student participants.

In addition to the time she spent in school and engaged at the program, Lateefah spent about four extra hours a week, just commuting to and from a volunteer program so she could learn how to better advocate against violence in her city - for nine straight weeks. That's compassion in action.

Not only did her mother drive Lateefah to the program whenever she could, but during her admission interview, Lateefah said that her mother is the person

Lateefah with her mother (left). Photo courtesy of Lateefah Williams.

Lateefah with her mother (left). Photo courtesy of Lateefah Williams.

that she admires and looks up to the most because, "she is such a strong individual." Lateefah's mother was a survivor of domestic violence from her high school relationship and these two women have ensured that the cycle of violence did not continue.

Now that Lateefah has completed the program, she doesn't want to stop. Lateefah is looking for more opportunities to work and study with animals, but she'll also continue to fight violence along the way. To protect Lateefah, I won't go into details here, but she has already been a voice to protect violence victims - before graduating from high school.

Her school, her mother, and staff at the Society - Lateefah has a network of support, like thousands of other Chicago teens. Let's remember that the positive, hopeful, and aspiring young teens like Lateefah are more representative of Chicago youth than those engaging in acts of violence. Perhaps paying more attention to students like Lateefah, for doing good, will inspire more teens to follow in her steps. Encourage positive action in our communities. Do good. Share good.
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