Living as a Chicago violence survivor is a constant battle. Demitra Kelly, a resident of Austin, survived a gunshot wound when she was 15 years old and now constantly worries about the safety of her three daughters.
“I am a victim of Chicago violence,” said Kelly during a recent interview. “I was shot in 1992 in Bronzeville.”
Kelly, 39, moved to Austin from Englewood in 2010. The two neighborhoods, though roughly 16 miles apart, aren’t all that different, she said.
“The block I was on [in Englewood] was very friendly and neighborly, but it had its fair share of crime,” she recalled.
In the beginning, Kelly said the transition to the West Side was rather smooth, until the crime started to spiral out of control.
“I came in the latter end of 2010, when it wasn’t as bad,” she said. “In the last five years, I’ve seen a dramatic change.”
Kelly said nowadays she lives in fear, mostly because she’s concerned about her children.
“They don’t go further than the back porch unaccompanied,” she said. “They don’t even get to go to the store to buy potato chips and soda like normal teenagers would get to do.”
She said she’s too afraid to let her children out of sight, because “I never know if there’s going to be a shooting after an argument or a fight.”
Her daughters are 15, 13 and seven years old. She does everything with them, including watch, and discuss, the news. Their most recent topic of conversation was about the Syrian refugees.
Violence is also a topic of conversation at the dinner table. Kelly said she wants her daughters to understand why she’s so strict. She doesn’t want them to feel the pain she felt as a 15-year-old. But she also doesn’t want them to feel so trapped that they’re compelled to try to leave.
“I don’t want them to get to the point where they feel smothered and just experiment and break out on their own, so I have to keep the dialogue open,” she said. They’re hard conversations, but they have to be had.”
In addition to her daughters, Kelly also talks violence around the community at various public meetings in Austin. She said the meetings make a difference, because the discussion is necessary.
“As of right now not everyone is out openly discussing and talking about these issues,” she said. “So who else is going to talk about them? Where is the solution going to come from?”
Kelly said she often gives her input on how to solve the community’s violence problem and reaches out to other residents after the meetings end. But she said the community’s general lack of participation in the dialogue is hindering Austin from moving forward with solutions.
“Here in Austin we get the fire lit,” she said. “But it’s about keeping the fire burning.”
Kelly said that, even though Austin is family-oriented and welcoming, the residents have to be more aggressive about thinking through ways to stop the violence.
“If not you then who?” she said. “Why not?”