South Side Spotlight, July 2014: Betrayal, Bullying and Resilience

SSS July

Each month South Side Stories will feature digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago.

This month, we feature digital stories by four young women who convey tales of betrayal, bullying, and inner resourcefulness.

The first story, Rumors, voices the story of Alexia and her feelings about being pressured into having sex by her boyfriend—convinced that this was the only way to prove her love to him. Later, Alexia feels betrayed when her boyfriend loses interest in her and the rumors begin to circulate. This story highlights the complex decisions young women face when learning how to develop healthy romantic relationships, including the decision to have sex. The betrayal Alexia expresses is common and highlights the gendered stereotypes that many adolescent girls confront when becoming sexually active, as well as the importance of having trusted friends and adults to make sense of such experiences.

“Hearing the story from an outsider’s perspective sounded so naïve and stupid…What made me feel even lower was not having anyone to talk to.”

In the second story, Overcome, a young girl confronts the realities of substance abuse by people in her life when she discovers some unsettling evidence in her boyfriend’s room: “I don’t speak; I just show.” Her denial that her boyfriend is using drugs gives way to anger and then, sadness. The images of cracks in the sidewalk, empty parking lots, a gated entrance, and discarded trash are potent symbols of her loneliness and despair. The story captures the hope, sadness, disillusionment, and longing that touch many youth who have witnessed the pain of drug abuse.

“My heart was shattered, and I no longer believed in the saying ‘Love can conquer anything.’” 

Bullying can have a profoundly negative impact on young people’s health and well-being and our third story, Bloodhounds, tells Priya’s story of being bullied by a former close friend. Her story captures the essence of a great friendship—“from the sleepovers to lunch outings to sitting next to each other on every trip. How we grew together from children to teens”—that is interrupted by the transition to adolescence, as “middle school brings change.”  The reoccurring motif of moving along a lonely path is a powerful symbol of the haunted pursuit of name calling. Along the way she becomes stronger.

“I will keep running as your words seem to find me like bloodhounds.”

The final story, Confidence, illustrates the inner strength of Najm as she describes her experience of being taunted and teased by people in her life. . Her struggle to fight against her insecurities and be “fearless, courageous, brave and very bold” is a common experience for adolescent girls, especially those who are bullied or teased by their peers. The repeated image of a young woman flexing her muscles is symbolic of Najm increasing self-esteem and exercising her will to believe in herself in spite of adversity.

“All my life people have been telling me what I’m not: not pretty, not cool enough…. Most of all that I don’t belong.

Together, these stories highlight the challenges and difficult transitions young women face during adolescence. Their collective voices demonstrate the need for safe emotional spaces and representations of healthy relationships in their social environment. Further, these stories demonstrate the resiliency of these young women.

We thank the storytellers for sharing their stories and honor their inner strength and courage.

South Side Stories aims to raise the voices of African American youth living on the South Side of Chicago, and to create an innovative body of social science research and education to better inform community members who work with youth. South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation. For more about the project, visit

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