Chicago Gun Violence Survivors Pen Their Own Stories For Personal Essay Series

Urban farmer and violence prevention advocate Marlon English tells his story of surviving gun violence through a personal essay published by the Chicago Sun-Times and The Trace.

The Chicago Sun-Times and The Trace pulled back the curtain on their joint publication of “Chicago Stories of Survival,” an essay series detailing the personal experiences of gun violence across the city. The outlets hosted a pair of panel discussions at The Impact House on Thursday, February 22, 2024.

The project, which launched in December, gave survivors of gun violence the opportunity to tell their stories in their own words and discuss their journeys toward healing. The writers for the inaugural cohort were taught personal essay writing skills, journalism basics, and storytelling methods to bring their stories to light.

Several of the survivors sat on the evening’s panel to discuss details of the writing process and the importance of handling these very traumatic stories with care. They drove home the point that these aren’t just articles to sell newspapers or ad space on a website — these are real lives affected by gun violence.

Marlon English, an urban farmer and violence prevention advocate, provided insight on his writing experience while working with the Sun-Times and The Trace. While he said he’s gained a greater appreciation for storytelling, he still challenges the media to do better in their reporting.

“Just listen. Pay attention. Ask the right questions. Don’t make assumptions. Come in with the right intentions,” English said. “I know some stories are sensationalized or exaggerated, but speak for the people who it’s about. I think that’s more important, making sure that you’re getting it right.”

In addition to hearing about the survivors’ writing process and circumstances, local media professionals also weighed in on their efforts to deliver more accurate and empathetic reporting. They all recognized that the most impactful stories put people at the center and allow those same people to drive the narrative.

To read the entire series, visit The Trace here.