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When a horrific school shooting in 2018 left 17 dead in affluent Parkland, Florida, nationwide headlines screamed and students received counseling and therapy dogs.

When violent death hits students in Chicago’s poorer, high-crime neighborhoods, “we just get harsher police policies,” said Carlil Pittman.

That inspired the creation of GoodKids MadCity, a group that describes itself as “Black and Brown young people united in fighting to end violence in our cities.”

After the Florida tragedy, Parkland students called for stricter gun control laws. But when you’re surrounded by poverty and generational trauma, “your mind thinks a little deeper than gun control,” said Pittman, who along with Kofi Ademola is an adult mentor for the group.

The GoodKids, in fact, think a lot deeper than many young people – and have been through a lot more. Raised in South and West Side areas plagued by violence, almost all have either witnessed violence, survived it themselves or had friends or family members injured or killed.

Reina Torres, 16, said she experienced her mother’s death when she was younger and then, when she was 10, her older brother was shot and killed.

“People called me a troubled kid”

In her West Side neighborhood, “you always heard gunshots, you always heard sirens . . . I became very angry. . . . like I wasn’t emotionally stable. And growing up, because of what I’ve been through, a lot of people called me a troubled kid.”

Torres has been in GoodKids MadCity about a year; Taylore Norwood is one of its several young co-founders.

The news coverage Parkland got “was just really outrageous for us, for everyone to be talking about gun violence,” said Norwood, now 21. Of course they recognized the heart-breaking tragedy – but they’d also lived with tragic violence themselves.

After GoodKids formed they were invited to the “March For Our Lives” in Washington D.C. and Norwood spoke to politicians there. Along with mass school shootings, she asked them to also “focus the conversation on kids who are facing trauma every day in a city like mine.”

Since then “we’ve created a safe space for each other,” Norwood said, holding peace circles and giveaways of food, toys and blankets.

At a rally this month, the GoodKids pushed for increased mental health services, which is part of their Peace Book Ordinance, a proposal to reallocate 2% of the Chicago Police Department budget to mental health, substance abuse treatment and other programming designed to prevent violence.

Later Torres said, “Every single one of these kids out here in the ‘hood, they’re capable of doing good things. They’re capable of doing great in the world but because the city is so messed up and it’s not giving us chances, that’s why we’re always labeled a bad kid. When in reality, we’re just good kids in a mad city.”

And when they say “mad,” they don’t mean angry. They mean insane.

Reina Torres of GoodKids MadCity and fellow youth activists Catlyn Savado and Leila Gutierrez (left to right) at a June 12th rally to call for mental health services.

GoodKids MadCity Co-Founder Taylore Norwood (center) with fellow protestors at a Beverly neighborhood rally.