Campers talked about what they gained from their camp experience and presented their “Stop the Violence” song to family and friends on the last day of camp. Savannah, Joseph, Isaiah, Faith, and Mccartney are pictured with Officer McCray and camp counselors Marques and Selena.Photo by Heidi Randhava

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Jennifer Francis came up with the idea of initiating a summer camp experience for Evanston middle school-age students as a way to honor the memory of her son, Ricky Wilson, a graduate of Dewey, Nichols and ETHS who loved music and life. Ricky Wilson was shot and killed in 2011, shortly after he had found his calling as a mentor and counselor to troubled youth.

Ms. Francis said that when she told Evanston Police Officer Corey McCray about her goal to establish an anti-violence summer music camp, Officer McCray said, “Let’s do it.” The end result was that five students, ages 12-14, spent two weeks at Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center under the direction of Officer McCray and Marques Santos, who is Ricky Wilson’s brother. Only one of the students had ever written a song, and none had ever been in a recording studio. By the end of the camp experience, they had bonded as a group and used their creative skills to write a “Stop the Violence” song and record it in the professional recording studio on site at Gibbs-Morrison.

When asked what she wants to help to curb violence in her community, Savannah Hill said, “Some people commit violence because they want to get revenge. They think it will make them feel better, but it doesn’t make them feel better. And people are losing their families.”

Another camper, Isaiah Gordon, said, “You can’t just walk outside and go to the grocery store. Some people don’t come back from the grocery store.”

The campers, none of whom is an at-risk youth, also attended mini workshops that provided them with resources to help others find alternatives to crime and violence. Workshops conducted by visiting professionals included “Conflict Resolution Techniques,” and “The Law and Your Community,” which provided information about what you should do when you get stopped by law enforcement.

The five students, none of whom knew each other before the camp began, also had fun, faced challenges, built new relationships, and gained knowledge and tools that will help them advocate for peaceful alternatives to the violence that threatens the well-being and lives of young people throughout the nation.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.