CHICAGO (CBS) — After both her siblings were shot and killed, a Northwest Indiana teen is trying to address gun violence in her hometown of Gary.
The rising homicide rate gripping the city is an issue CBS 2 has been staying on top of.
“For someone to think they’re obligated to take the life of someone you love is very hard,” Aaliyah Stewart said.
The 18-year-old has attended more than her fair share of funerals.
“I would say over 20 of the young people that I know that have been killed due to gun violence,” she said. “It’s not normal at all. It’s an epidemic.”
It’s an epidemic she knows all too well. Stewart’s brother Anthony White was gunned down at the age of 16. She was just 7 years old.
He gave me a hug and told us goodbye, but we never thought goodbye would be forever,” she said.
Seven years later, gun violence turned Stewart into an only child. Her 20-year-old brother, James Anderson, was shot and killed.
“For him to be taken away, it put me back at square one because I felt like both of my angels were taken away,” she said.
But the teen took those tough experiences and turned them into tenacity.
“It felt like part of me left with my brother, and I gained it back,” she said.
Stewart created her own nonprofit organization, the ASW Foundation, when she was 14.
Since then she’s been working to be a blessing in Northwest Indiana by putting presents in the hands of bright faced little boys and girls around Christmastime and raising money to award college scholarships.
But it’s her latest effort that may have the greatest impact on Gary yet.
“I want to teach young people how to build a resume, how to dress,” she said.
Stewart dreams of developing a safe space for anyone between the ages of 8 and 18 to turn to in a city plagued by crime.
Gary has seen 16 murders so far in 2019, a 25% spike compared to this time last year.
“The message is pushed that gun violence is an epidemic,” Stewart said. “So many people don’t recognize it as one. I feel like that’s what slows down the process of actually realizing what we’re in.”
Friday night Stewart’s non-profit played host to the Project Peace Youth Gala, an event aimed at raising funds for the youth center and a better future for the city she loves.
The final numbers are’t in, but Stewart hopes to raise $5,000.
She said her foundation has already met with Gary city leaders, and they want to have a location locked down by the end of the month in hopes of opening the youth center in June of next year.