South Side Stories Spotlight, February 2015: First Loves

South Side Stories February

Each month, Ci3’s South Side Stories features digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago. This month’s Spotlight focuses on first love, as told by our youth partners who are close to those “first” experiences. In the following stories, youth describe their first experiences with romantic love, reflecting on the role these experiences play in shaping their identity, relationships to others and hopes for the future.

Alexia’s story, Rumors, describes how powerful — and painful — a first encounter with love can be. She recalls, “Every girl never forgets her first love. In this case, I wish I could.” In high school, she met someone who made her feel cared for and accepted, as she explains, “The truth is, I felt special to be wanted. I wanted him to want me. Everyone loves the feeling of being wanted.” As the relationship progresses, Alexia describes how professions of love become requests for sex, leaving her feeling pressured. When the relationship becomes public, she becomes the subject of rumors, and describes feeling betrayed and isolated. She recalls: “What made me feel even lower was not having anyone to talk to. I realized who my real friends were at that moment.” Her experience changed her way of seeing the world, as she developed a fear of being judged and an inability to trust others. Despite the turmoil of this relationship, Alexia finds resilience within herself: “I still haven’t given up on love. I hope that one day, I will get my fairy tale ending.”


In his story, Bonds, Demetrius describes the critical role his partner plays in his social and emotional development. When his parents divorced, he is shocked and hurt by what happens to his family: “I never thought my Dad would betray my Mom.” He reacts by putting up walls to protect himself from being hurt by others. This coping mechanism works until his partner begins to ask about his real feelings,“My girlfriend is the closest person to me besides my family. She asked me recently: ‘how come I’ve never seen you cry?’…I told her how scared I was of being hurt…how I cover everything up with a smile.” In his story, he describes how he can trust her and as a result begins to trust others, “Because of her, I now am able to let people in, I now have the ability to create stronger bonds with people.”

Tia’s story, Closer, is about a cycle of loss and renewal. She falls in love with a young man in her South Side neighborhood“where every block is hot, and nobody is safe.” Her mom, concerned about the violence in their community, moves the family to a new neighborhood. But Tia wants to retain the relationship with her boyfriend, saying,“me moving away wasn’t me moving on.” However, with greater geographic distance, the relationship begins to fall apart. She describes trying to contact her boyfriend on her cell phone and the repeated cycle of “he picks up, hangs up, dial tone.” Tia blames her mother for her loss, “Mommy, I hate you”. . But then, as time passes, she forgives, understands, and accepts her mother’s decision. She describes spending more time with her mother and the joy that comes from their conversations and closeness. As she relinquishes her old love, Tia addresses her mother: “We’re closer now. The love you give is something many people put their hands together at night and pray for.”

A’jua opens her story, Four Corners, wryly: “I’m a teenage girl, so you guessed it right if you said it was about boys.” A’jua’s first love grew out of an important friendship. A certain intersection in Chicago, four corners, reminds her of their shared love of music and the places where they hung out together. But when the friendship tips into romance, the relationship sours. Following a first kiss, A’jua recounts “he texted and said that it didn’t feel right, and neither did I.” Disappointed and hurt, A’jua admits that “when I listen to certain musicians, or meet a new boy, I think about him, and how he doesn’t even care.” Despite her hurt feelings, A’jua comes to appreciate her own worth and envisions a healthy relationship in the future: “One day soon, I will have a boyfriend who appreciates me, and thinks that every day with me is a blessing.”

We thank the authors for sharing their stories.


Click here for the full Spotlight, including broader implications and a research guide.

South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

South Side Stories Spotlight, January 2015: Loss

Each month, Ci3’s South Side Stories project features digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago. This January, we reflect on loss. Personal loss challenges, forms, and transforms us. Grief and bereavement are particularly poignant for adolescents. In this month’s spotlight, we feature stories by Charles, Nailah and Jajuan, in which each youth grapples with family loss. Through these stories, we experience death after a long life, death after a brief life, and finally a story of premature loss due to incarceration. South Side Stories highlights the bravery of storytellers and the power of stories. As we welcome the New Year, we salute these youth, their courage, and their stories of loss and of hope.

South Side Stories January 1

In All I Have, Charles presents his perspective on the death of two family members. Charles opens with an emphasis on how important family is to him, juxtaposing images of his family against words about his struggle with his peers and community. His narration has a clear rhyme and rhythm, though peppered with sudden interruptions and pauses, not unlike those brought on by the loss of his loved ones. He fondly remembers times with his grandfather and cousin, then tells of the shock and hurt of his grandfather passing and his cousin’s suicide. Charles incessantly questions, “Why? … I just kept wondering: why?” While he clearly appreciates and loves the family he currently has, he still wonders, “Sometimes, I wish he would just bring them back.”

In In Memory Of, Nailah brings us into the intimate moment of her grandmother’s death. Nailah’s story begins at a festive time — her graduation from grammar school — before quickly turning to the hospitalization of her grandmother.  As “things got really crazy,” she jumps forward two months, when her grandmother’s health has declined. Throughout her piece, Nailah contrasts actual events with ideal events. She tells us how her grandmother felt sick and looked beautiful. She describes her grandmother’s sickness as a blur, but paints a finely detailed scene: the coldness in her grandmother’s hand, the hospital bed, and her own body on a hot day in August. Nailah struggles with the doctors and nurses coming to “help save” her grandmother in those last few moments, as “people of no significance” block Nailah’s view of someone so significant to her. The contrasts in Nailah’s story illustrate the conflict that arises when letting someone go – someone who was so lively, yet passes away quietly.

Finally, in Searching, Jajuan reminds us that loss is not only due to death. Instead, Jajuan struggles when his father is incarcerated. When his father is sent to jail, he struggles with his father’s absence, and with comprehending what his father had done. He starts us just where he started, not knowing why his father was taken away, before slowly revealing the truth he learned. “The day you went away I sat and wondered, ‘What did he do?’ They would never tell me. I guess I was too young to understand…” Despite his father’s absence, Jajuan asks his father pointed questions, and challenges his father to reflect on his actions. However, when his dad returns, Jajuan’s words and description soften dramatically, as he recognizes he is searching not only to  understand his father’s actions and imprisonment, but also for a connection to someone who he had lost.

Click here for the full January spotlight, which includes broader implications and a resource guide.

South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

South Side Stories Spotlight, December 2014: Bedroom Culture and Providing Safe Spaces for Youth

Each month, Ci3’s South Side Stories features digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago. In December, we considered bedroom culture and safe spaces for youth. As we all think of things to be grateful for this holiday season, South Side Stories considers those places where young people feel safe and those people who support them.

This topic is particularly poignant as last month, the Chicago community lost one of its own, Brother Mike Hawkins. We take this occasion to honor him and others who create safe spaces for young people. Brother Mike collaborated on some of our earliest digital stories and we will cherish his memory.

brother mike

Brother Mike Hawkins, right, with a student in an early digital storytelling workshop. Photo: Seed Lynn

Click here for the full December Spotlight, including broader implications and a resource guide.

Click here for the November Spotlight.

First in this month’s stories, two young women share narratives that allow us to step inside their most sacred spaces: their bedrooms.  For decades, scholars have theorized about teenage “bedroom culture,” a phrase coined by McRobbie and Garber (1975). For teenage girls, bedrooms were originally conceived of as ideal settings for escaping domestic duties and pursuing home-based leisure activities. Decades later, teenage girls on the South Side of Chicago remind us of the importance of privacy. In their stories, Mariah and Tyana describe the different ways in which their personal spaces respond to their individual needs and lives.

In Precious Things, Mariah reflects on why she spends so much time in her room. With vibrantly colored walls, Mariah’s bedroom is decorated with a number of artifacts that help to keep some of her fondest memories alive. She recognizes that her bedroom is a refuge but asks herself, “What am I trying to escape?” Ultimately, she concludes that her room represents more than simply an escape from the world outside. “It’s my own personal time capsule,” she explains, “where every precious memory finds a home.”

In contrast, Tyana describes her room in Family Life as the place where she escapes from the arguments that occur between her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. The room’s thin white walls don’t actually help to keep the sounds out, so Tyana finds herself feeling “stuck with nowhere to go and no one to love.” Rather than finding comfort or refuge from the outside world, Tyana’s room becomes the space where she questions both her worth and self-beauty. “I wonder, is it me?” she asks aloud. “Am I ugly? Am I not perfect for my own family?”

Finally, in Waiting for the Bell Ava describes being isolated and lonely at school. She pushes open the heavy school door and hears laughter, which might just be a joke or might be people laughing at her. Yet once the school bell rings and the day ends, she has a place that she can go to.  There, “the doors were lighter, the room was brighter, my voice triumphed, and my presence was honored.”

South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

Happy New Year from Ci3: Still Time to Give!

As 2015 approaches, Ci3 encourages you to help us continue to fulfill our mission by making a tax-deductible donationPlease specify “Ci3” in the Special Instructions box at the bottom of the form.

The Source Summer 2013

We believe that advancing sexual and reproductive health and personal well-being depends on building skills and assets among youth. Give generously today!

South Side Stories September

Questions? Contact Ci3 Executive Director Dr. Brandon Hill, at (773) 834-8509 or via email.

South Side Stories Spotlight, November 2014: Sexual Coercion

South Side Stories November

Each month, Ci3’s South Side Stories project features digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago.

November’s South Side Spotlight focuses on sexual coercion, a critical topic for adolescents. Sexual coercion refers to the act of making another person engage in sexual activity against their will (Brousseau, Bergeron, Hébert & McDuff, 2011). This term includes rape and sexual assault, as well as acts that persuade someone to engage in unwanted sexual activity, such as using pressure, drugs or alcohol. Sexual violence is achieved through physical force, threats, emotional manipulation, consistent pressure, fear or coercion.

Two stories are presented, one from a young man, who experienced childhood sexual abuse, and another from a young woman, who experienced rape. In The Unveiling, the male narrator is just beginning to talk about his sexual trauma, although several years have passed since the event occurred. I was 10 and barely knew about sex. But this tragic process was continuously repeated.  And I? …Remained silent.  It’s seven years later and I’m finally starting to confront my feelings, I am wondering why it has taken so long.

In his story, the narrator discusses a challenge common to many victims of sexual assault: the difficulty of telling people what has happened, which may be especially hard for boys and men. Who could I have turned to? he asks. Family? Friends? Someone at school…where teachers are too busy and social workers switch year after year? The silence that shrouds his experience is depicted by the word “Shhh” on the blackboard. His comments highlight the importance of ensuring that youth have trusting relationships with adults with whom they can share their experiences regarding sexual violence. Despite this violence, he ends his story on a hopeful note, with the declaration that he still “deserves love and care.”

The second story, Untitled, recounts the experience of a young woman who was raped by a man. The narrator shares her memories of the event and how she felt disassociated from her experience with sexual violence: I am watching the situation as if it isn’t even me. Watching her underneath him. Panting. Crying. Pleading for him to stop. Too weak to fight, too scared to scream. I want to ask her: How did you get into this situation? I want to ask him: If she’s so beautiful… how could you do this?

Remembering the event trigger[s] memories that leave you feeling stuck. We also hear the narrator’s disappointment at not having experienced first love in the way she imagined: Her first love, her first kiss, it should be a positive thing, but that’s not her story. Though impacted by her experience, she is aware that she can move past this. There’s this beautiful girl trapped inside of me, who is not running, or scared of her dreams.

We thank the authors for sharing their stories and honor their courage.

The following are national resources available to victims of sexual violence:

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)

1 (800) 656-HOPE

Department of Defense Hotline

(877) 995-5247 

Stop It Now

If you need immediate assistance, please contact either your local police, 911 or hospital. You can also contact ChildHelp at 1.800.4ACHILD (1.800.422.4453).

(413) 587-3500

Men Can Stop Rape

(202) 265-6530

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

(717) 909-0710 Phone
(877) 739-3895 Toll Free

The following resources are available to victims of sexual violence in the Greater Chicago Metropolitan area.

Rape Crisis Hotline

Call (888) 293-2080 in Chicago Metropolitan Area
Call (630) 971-3927 in DuPage County
Call (708) 748-5672 in the South Suburbs

Rape Victim Advocates (RVA)

(312) 443-9603

Young Women’s Association of Metropolitan Chicago (YWCA)

(312) 733-2102, ext. 2146

Click here for a full Spotlight including broader research and policy implications.

South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

Ci3 Profiled in Windy City Times



Ci3 and Executive Director Dr. Brandon Hill were recently profiled in the Windy City Times. Dr. Hill spoke of Ci3’s efforts “to really give voice to racial and sexual minorities, with the goal of policy implications.” Dr. Hill spotlights Ci3’s digital storytelling project South Side Stories.

Read the full article here.

South Side Stories Spotlight, October 2014: Cultural Identity

SSS October

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

This month’s theme is cultural identity. These four young women explore language, music and social customs, both their own and those of others, reflecting upon how these discoveries enrich their own identities.

Click here for a full version of the October Spotlight, including broader implications and a resource guide.

In Bald and Beautiful, Jakina narrates the process of overcoming insecurity and acquiring a more positive self-image. Jakina, who has alopecia (hair loss), recalls teasing and bullying from other children in her neighborhood and school. As a young adult, she decides to embrace her baldness and go without a wig. “No longer will I allow hair to define my beauty. No longer will I be submitted to wear wigs because society wants me to have hair.”



The second story, Manifest, chronicles a young woman’s first concert experience. Gabrielle is excited to see her favorite group, but is overwhelmed by the sounds, smells and collective energy of the crowd surrounding her. Finally, she remembers why she came to the show and realizes she is part of something much larger. “Pushing through the crowd, closer to the stage, just feet away…I’m lost in the music.”



In Outsider, Kyla describes her “sheltered” childhood on Chicago’s South Side. “My whole life had been set up to please others and not myself.” While Kyla embraces both the North and South Side cultures, she is surprised when her peers are less understanding of her outlook. Kyla’s story demonstrates the complexity of balancing the expectations of her peers with her own identity development.



In the final story, Ringtones, Darnisha explains the origins and implications of her fascination with Korean culture. She finds that learning about another culture has only enriched her own African American identity. “My skin, my hair, the food I eat, my identity as a Black girl, a granddaughter, a friend, and an optimist, I still carry with me, so people understand that you,we, can be the best of both worlds.”



Together, these stories illustrate the sense of identity, gleaned from pushing boundaries, asking questions and navigating new environments in pursuit of a fuller human experience. We thank the authors for sharing their stories and honor their curiosity, intelligence and honesty.

South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

South Side Stories Featured on Be You Media

Larry Anticipation

South Side Stories, Ci3’s digital storytelling project supported by the Ford Foundation, has been featured on Be You Media, a collaboration of the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Mikvah Challenge. Be You Media posted the stories of Larry, a young man who ponders the ramifications of coming out to his mother, and Alexia, a young woman dealing with rumors. For more about South Side Stories, visit

South Side Stories Spotlight, September 2014: School Life

South Side Stories September

Each month, Ci3’s South Side Stories will feature digital stories that spotlight the lives of adolescents and young adults from the South Side of Chicago.

This month, in honor of the start of a new academic year, we present stories about high school. The stories explore young people’s emotional and academic experiences, particularly as they cope with Chicago’s highly segregated schools. We hear what it is like to be the only African American in a predominately white school or being in predominately African American schools, where teachers and even peers have low expectations. These stories are about wanting to fit in, wanting to stand out, wanting to be challenged, and not wanting to be dismissed.

Click here for a full version of the September Spotlight, including broader implications and a resource guide.

The first story, Walls, tells Spenser’s story of being the only African American girl in her class until her freshman year at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School. There, she discovers “a type of diversity I’d never experienced before.” The emotional walls she constructed begin to come down when she and a classmate get lost one day in downtown Chicago and bond.



Najim’s storyConfidencedescribes feeling insecure at high school. Her classmates tell her she doesn’t belong and call her names: “fat”, “know-it-all”, “teacher’s pet.” “I believe everything people say and it hurts.” Yet, she also imagines herself as “fearless, courageous, brave and very bold.”



In the third story, School ZoneJerrold describes the first day of school, where uniforms and no earrings make him feel generic. His school does not matter to him, and he feels he does not matter to his school. Jerrold says, “High school teaches you about dead people and calls it history. I question: when is a dead person going to help me with anything in life?”



In Tested +, Charial confronts being discouraged by her teacher. “My 8th grade teacher made me feel in a way that I was not smart enough…I’d be fibbing if I said it didn’t affect the way I carried myself, the way I viewed things. But honestly, it made me feel like I had something to prove.”



Together, these youth illustrate that despite vulnerabilities, they are intellectually and emotionally resilient. We thank the authors for sharing their stories and honor their determination.

South Side Stories is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation.

South Side Stories Spotlight, August 2014: Belonging

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 narratives by four young women who share stories of belonging. These stories relate to the physical spaces and the groups of people that make them feel safe and secure.

(Click here for an expanded Spotlight that includes a resource guide.)

In the first story, Precious Things, Mariah describes the importance of having a personal space.


The second storyA Small Apartment, depicts Alexandria making her home through an emotional rather than physical connection.


The third story, Transplanted Flowers, honors the author’s grandmother. Growing up, Shawnteal felt like an outsider with only her grandmother for support.


In Waiting for the Bell, Ava starts her story at school with kids laughing at her. She realizes she cannot wait to be accepted, and attends a nurturing performing arts program each day after school.


We thank the authors for sharing their stories.

Broader implications

Mariah, Alexandria, and Shawnteal each credit their families, biological or chosen, with shaping their identities as emergent adults.

While the South Side of Chicago context is unique, the stories are universal: young people have talents, individuality, hopes, and dreams. They require privacy, emotional support, after school programs, and meaningful adult relationships for health and well being. Young African Americans, particularly those in low-resourced communities, are particularly vulnerable. Providing young people with the safety that comes through a sense of belonging can help them find their voices, as they have done in these stories.