28-year old Anthony Sturdivant and 30-year-old Leon Kelsick know the trauma of Chicago’s gun violence problem all too well. Their experiences led the young men to develop a social media campaign to send a clear message to their peers in the crime addled metropolis: Think Before You Shoot!
Their four short videos depict different situations that allow viewers to decide how one could walk away from the temptation to use a gun in the face of conflict. “The best thing is that I am a young Black man, and I want kids to look at it and say, 'look at this young guy telling us to think before you shoot. He could be one of the guys out there doing the wrong thing… but instead, he is there telling us to think before you shoot'” said Sturdivant after filming a new episode for Urban Grind TV.
“I had two incidents when I was held at gunpoint over a robbery or a stick up…One was at a barber shop, and the other was after leaving high school. In both situations, they actually thought before they shot.”
The West Side native believes that something happened in the course of the robbery that prevented the potential shooters from pulling the trigger: “I actually heard [the armed robbers say]… I'm fixing to shoot you if you don't give me nothing,' but no shot went off.”
Like many other gun violence victims whose lives were spared, he found meaning in his survival: “There has to be a reason why I was not killed on either of those occasions because many people I know were not so lucky and the shooters did not think before they shot. They killed them, but I am here to build this important movement.”
After developing the concept for the #TB4YS project, Sturdivant sought out a visual artist to make the vision come alive in a way that would get the attention of most potential shooters. His search led to Kelsick, the founder and CEO of Mudwing Media with a reputation for producing creative advertising products in Chicago, who happily agreed.
According to Kelsick, coming face-to-face with gun violence on the city’s West Side as a South Side native helped him “realize that this is a real situation and people really get hurt by those guns even though they may not even get shot. I was pistol-whipped over the head and had additional injuries to my hand as a result of fighting back. For some reason, they chose not to shoot me. They had to do some thinking.”
Sturdivant has a hypothesis that he wants Kelsick to bring forward in the videos: “Sometimes [gun violence occurs because of the] heat of the moment, bad influences, and sometimes it is not knowing what they have or how they can control their success. It is all about success and a lot of the perpetrators are not sure how they can have success in life, how they can control their life for the good. So if they know more that they can control their success, they will think more seriously about risking their life, killing someone, or shooting someone. So it is really about teaching someone how to control their own success.”
Kelsick adds “The most effective way to stop violence, is to not talk down to people. And that is what we are really doing. We don't want to point fingers to people saying you don't do this, and you don't do that. It is more about showing people a different way out of something bad because there are many reasons why people do what they do, but that last second decision is what it all comes down to.”
“I want to give a positive message in an entertaining way," says Sturdivant, who believes it's important to depict violence in the short films. "Lots of the things that entertain the youth [are] negative with fights and violence, so my thing is, how do I entertain the youth, make them watch the whole three minutes. Because the whole message is not throughout the film. So at the end of the film, the first thing that they are going to say is, “think before you shoot.”
Kelsick indicates that most of the negative responses to the videos are coming from the people least likely to pick up a gun: “Some people give negative responses and ask, 'why would you think before you shoot?' but these are the ones thinking too much into the production, and not the ones most likely to shoot. The people who are most affected by the violence, and those mostly to shoot, they don't look at it sarcastically. To them, it is something to seriously consider, and that is the result we want.”
Other short video messages are in the making; the artists hope to create a longer video production to help spread their message, and are seeking assistance:
“I will say to help me to get the message out, donate to the cause, and the money will go toward the building of the productions, and to reach out to as many people as I can with the message.
Dr. Peter K. B. St. Jean is the Executive Director and Founder of Peaceful World Movement, an adjunct professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Governors State University and University at Buffalo Department of Sociology, and the Coordinator of Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood at Haymarket Center, Chicago. He is also the author of Pockets of Crime: Broken Windows, Collective Efficacy and the Criminal Point of View.