When violence strikes and starts going at kids, the community looks at that. Violence is like a disease.  It rubs off on people.  Like these grown men; they sell teenagers and kids guns when really they shouldn’t.  One way violence is like a disease is when you shoot a person, the other person tries to find out who did it to retaliate.  So, now you’ve got these two people, or gangs, going at it.  This year in March, like a week or two ago, a little girl name Jonyla Watkins was shot when she was only 6 months old.  Whoever shot that baby has no heart. How could you sleep knowing you did that to a child who hasn’t got to even see the world or say her first words?  When she was shot, I was hoping it would open people’s eyes to realize that it is not good to kill or have a gun.  There have been so many innocent bystanders that died for NO REASON.  What did Jonyla do?  What did Hadiya [Pendleton] do?  Nothing.  That’s why people need to put the guns down and think.  That could’ve been your mom, sister, cousin, uncle—anybody!

I live in Chicago where it is called CHIRAQ.  Here in the Englewood area, it feels like we’re in a WORLD WAR.  Basically, it’s all about gangs and gang violence.  And the gangs don’t care.  If you live in a neighborhood where they claiming that gang like [the Black Disciples], [the Gangster Disciples], [the Black P-Stones] and more, that’s the gang you're in, even if you don’t want to be. That’s how they look at you, as a part of that gang. You can’t even say your family member or friend's name without people saying you're in a gang because it’s some type of gang named after them.

To be honest, I don’t think this world is going to change because the gangs are too deep in it.  I can’t say anything without somebody thinking I’m in a gang.  You can’t sing a song without somebody saying you're an "opp" [the enemy].  But I don’t gang bang.  I hope we as a community come together to make something that’s negative into a positive — make the word gang mean people who help and protect the community and the YOUTH.

Mercedes Austin is a 7th grade student at the Dulles School of Excellence in Chicago.