CHICAGO

RaSia Kephra, Chicago Teen Anti-Violence Activist: 'It's All Inspired By Hadiya's Death'

07/12/2013 01:59 pm ET | Updated Jul 12, 2013

In March, The Huffington Post began talking to teens and adults throughout the U.S. about their experiences with gun violence. This is one person's story. You can read others here.

RaSia Kephra, 18, recently graduated from King College Prep High School in Chicago's Kenwood neighborhood and lives in the Washington Park area. Kephra was close friends with another King College Prep student, Hadiya Pendleton, who was the subject of international media attention when she was fatally shot, a week after she performed as a majorette as part of President Barack Obama's second inauguration. Pendleton's death inspired Kephra and other Chicago youth who heard her story to create Project Orange Tree, an anti-violence initiative.

Since the end of my sophomore year, starting on my junior year, I had known Hadiya. We ended up crossing paths because I played soccer and I was running in the soccer camp we had going on at King, and she played volleyball so she was at the volleyball camp at the same time. My practice would end early and I would come in and talk to my friends at the school, find out who's waiting for their parents to pick them up, and she came out and we ended up exchanging names and whatnot. We ended up being really close friends in the end, now, my senior year. I had lunch with her, so me and Hadiya spoke multiple times every day, including text messaging. Me and Hadiya were close.

I don't think having somebody that close to you can ever leave your mind if they've been taken in such a way. I do, definitely, think about her every day because I'm used to seeing her every day. ... It hurts less as time goes on, it definitely kind of influences how I carry myself now.

For example, before this I had always wanted to address the violence in my community. I always wanted it to be something that I did to help it out, but after [Hadiya's shooting], I actually started to question what those actions were. ... That's kind of where Project Orange Tree came from, because a lot of us wanted to address the problems in our community. It's all inspired by Hadiya's death.

I carry myself differently because of that day. That day, we were coming out from the first day of testing, it was finals week and you get out early. Usually people would go out to eat or something, go out and hang out at a park, just kind of unwind from the strenuous day of testing you had.

That day, I would have usually been with Hadiya. I would have gone to that park or gone out to hang out with them. In fact, before I left they were like, "Are you going to come hang out with us today?" But I'm like, "No, I've got a meeting," because I have a scholarship called the Posse scholarship and we meet every Tuesday. It happened on a Tuesday so I wasn't able to go with them, but it makes me more cognitive about the way that I carry myself because, to some point, I was in denial about the state the city is in. I was just moving on forward like everything is kind of cool and, yeah, people get shot but I was in my own zone. I was like, that's bad, we're going to have to deal with it, but it wasn't as close. It didn't touch me yet. Her death made it touch me.

Growing up in the community that I have, I think I've seen one person get shot, which is wild because I hear about a lot of shootings. But I had never actually seen one before. We were sitting on a porch during the summer and somebody came up to the house that was across the street on the end of the corner and shot into the house at a person on the porch.

At first it caught me by surprise, because you've heard gunshots before but it was in such a close range it took me aback like, "Is this really happening?" and then, "Yeah, it's happening, protect yourself."

I've seen or known or been in contact with maybe five to 10 people who've gotten shot. I'm not sure if that's on the high end or if that's on the low end, but that's just from my own personal experience.

A lot of the violence isn't like, "Yo, I'm shooting you because you're a B.D. [the gang Black Disciple]" and a lot of the violence isn't "I'm shooting you because you're a G.D. [the gang Gangster Disciple] and I'm not." It's more like interpersonal conflicts. It's not so much gangs anymore. I'm saying that they label anything ["gang-related"] because maybe you're "in" a gang [so] that if you get into it with somebody, it's a "gang-related" fight -- but not necessarily. I don't think a lot of the violence that's being labeled gang-related violence is as prevalent as it's being hyped up to be.

I'm pretty sure it's not that hard to get a gun. Why is it not that hard to get a gun? I'm not too much sure, but it seems like everybody knows somebody that either has a gun or has access to a gun. I just feel like it's always that one person that you know you can go to for certain things and getting a gun isn't that hard. I've never really tried to get a gun so I don't know if it's that easy, but it seems easy enough.

It's more like I need a gun for protection or, say, I'm having problems because they shut down my school and now I have to go to the other school that's in a new neighborhood. I need a gun to make sure I protect myself on the way there because I don't feel comfortable. Being able to do that isn't very hard. You can go up to the person that you know that has spoken about having their gun or you just ask the people you think would have a gun. I want to say one out of 10 people you ask you're going to be able to find somebody who has a connection.

As told to Joseph Erbentraut.

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