Urban Warriors: connecting combat veterans to teens in high-violence neighborhoods

A session of Urban Warriors. All photos credited to NPR.

A session of Urban Warriors. All photos credited to NPR.

A promising program in Chicago is bringing combat veterans and teenagers in high-violence neighborhoods together. The premise behind it is that the former servicemembers and the at-risk kids have something in common that’s not obvious: direct experience with violence. The key difference, of course, is that the veterans are able to bring their maturity and perspective to the relationshipo—allowing them to effectively serve as mentors and informal counselors to young men who need help processing the trauma of living in “war zone communities.”

The founder of the program, Eddie Bocanegra of the YMCA in Chicago, gave the following explanation to NPR:

“Many of the gang members Bocanegra met had witnessed violence or been victims as kids. He wanted to get to them sooner, using people they respect as mentors. He gave the kids a list of potential role models from the neighborhood; they liked the idea of veterans.

‘Kids identify themselves as soldiers, because they live in war zone communities,’ Bocanegra says. ‘They make the parallels between, veterans, you know, carry guns, we carry guns. They got ranks, we got ranks. They got their Army uniforms, we got our gang colors. And the list went on and on.'”

Dubbed Urban Warriors, the program has been underway for only two years and academic researchers are only beginning to study its impact. But in the meantime, testimonials like the following teenager’s are promising:

“The past week, I was just thinking about dropping out of school. Until today. And I see that it’s a lot of stuff that I can accomplish if I stay in school, by looking at the veterans. Like I’m not sure if I want to go to college, but I might want to join the police academy or just go to the Navy or something.”

For more information, see “Chicago Teens And Combat Veterans Join Forces To Process Trauma,” NPR.