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CHICAGO (CBS)Michael Brown, 15, was walking home from school in Bronzeville on Tuesday, Feb. 8, but he was gunned down and killed before he even made it home.

Fear for their own safety is a constant for kids in that neighborhood. But CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra found a program working to help them feel that – and then move forward.

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Imagine you are a teen growing up in Bronzeville right now. The pressures of the often chaotic and sometime violent outside world are ever present, but something changes when kids walk through the door at New Community Outreach, 3627 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

What goes on there feels one way to Jonathan Norman.

“It feels good, but it’s kind of weird, to be honest,” he said.

It feels another way to Gionna Shack.

“Pure happiness,” Shack said. “Every time I walk through this door, it’s joyful.”

But the work done within the walls of New Community Outreach creates same result in both of them.

“Every time, when I’m in this space I’m just able to be myself,” Shack said.

“I don’t have to be this big person or put on a front – it’s just me,” added Norman. “I can be myself.”

They are part of the KEY Program, an acronym for Knowledge Empowers Youth. Its goal is to create a restorative space, where kids can safely speak and share about trauma.

Topics are as big and broad as the city’s violence.

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“It’s a warzone, as we all know,” Norman said. “I have to literally duck and dodge bullets and change the way I do stuff.”

For others the topics are deeply personal.

“I guess, my household,” said Shack.

Executive director Sonia Wang helps them feel the feelings.

“There’s so much going on, and we don’t often take time to say, ‘I just went through that, and I felt this way, and now I’m going to move forward,’” Wang said.

And forward they move, turning their micro-community’s passion into events for the larger one.

“There’s a measure of like healing and reconciling, but it’s also about flourishing,” Wang said.

They do it by learning their thoughts are important, that it’s OK to share, and that grief becomes growth.

“They have the same problems,” said Shack. “It’s like, I’m not alone.”

And that’s a key to life they’ll carry through it.

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“We don’t get many chances to express how we feel – or when we do, it’s not really heard,” Norman said. “but they make us feel wanted.”

Source: CBS Chicago

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