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Hope, Love and Resilience......

Hope, Love and Resilience......

Picture of Carlos Javier  Ortiz
In 2009, 14-year-old Ondelee Perteet was shot in the jaw at a birthday party in Chicago's West Side. The bullet severed his spine, paralyzing him from the neck down. His doctors told him that he would never walk again, but four years later, he is beginning to walk with the help of crutches.

Too Young to Die.    

Since I undertook this project, I have photographed more then 50 crime scenes, attended 7 court hearings and 18 funerals, photographed more than 60 memorials, candlelight vigils and protests against violence. I have shot nearly 500 rolls of film and recorded 16 hours of audio interviews, which capture the thoughts and emotions of perpetrators and victims of youth violence. I have invested over six years creating this project while working on magazine assignments and other jobs to support myself. And I have learned a lot.

Through my project I have met many great people who, like us all, want a chance at life. Although their situations are sometimes dire, they are determined and full of hope.  These stories of tragic beauty have influenced my life and taught me the real meaning of resilience.

Like many of the families I have met while covering this project, Ondelee Perteet’s story exemplifies resilience. Ondelee was 14 years old when he was shot while attending his sister’s birthday party. The shots left him a quadriplegic. The perpetrator was 15-year-old Robert Sansberry. Since the shooting, which left Ondelee in a wheelchair, his doctors told him he would never walk again. Today, he is struggling. His story of perseverance is illustrative of many youth across Chicago bearing the scar of violence. Yet even defying the odds, Ondelee and his mother DeeTreena bear painful and intense psychological trauma on a daily basis. They struggle to make ends meet, and worry about affording the therapy and care that Ondelee will need throughout his life. Last fall, he had to stop physical therapy when he exhausted his lifetime cap on Medicaid coverage after three years of intensive services. 

I have spent much time getting to know Ondelee and his mother DeeTreena. For my fellowship project I collaborated with the Chicago Reporter to revisit the story and the progress that Ondelee has made since I met him in August of 2011. My fellowship term was very helpful because it allowed me to have the time to spend with Ondelee.  

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The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 National Fellowship will provide $2,000 to $10,000 reporting grants, five months of mentoring from a veteran journalist, and a week of intensive training at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles from July 16-20. Click here for more information and the application form, due May 5.

The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 Symposium on Domestic Violence provides reporters with a roadmap for covering this public health epidemic with nuance and sensitivity. The next session will be offered virtually on Friday, March 31. Journalists attending the symposium will be eligible to apply for a reporting grant of $2,000 to $10,000 from our Domestic Violence Impact Reporting Fund. Find more info here!


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