Editor's Note: This week, American Morning is examining the causes of youth-on-youth violence across the country. Yesterday, in part two of the series, "Walk in My Shoes," we talked with a group of teenagers about why they fight. Tomorrow, we examine the teenage brain to look for an explanation for some of their behavior.
By T.J. Holmes, CNN
It's not yet 7 a.m. and 17-year-old Eric Nimely is already facing his first test of the day – getting safely to school on Chicago's South Side.
Millions of American parents don't think twice about getting their kids to and from school each day, with expectations of a safe carpool, bus ride or short walk.
But for more than 400,000 public school students in Chicago a trip to and from school could become a matter of life and death. We took that trip with two students, and talked with them about how they deal with the constant threat of violence and the effect it has on their lives.
“Everybody gets on the bus and sometimes coming home they’re fighting, you know stuff like that on the bus,” says Eric, who switched his route to school for a safer trip.
To walk in Eric's shoes, is to get a glimpse into a world where getting to school is all about survival.
“If you don't have any friends … I'm not saying you’re going to get picked on, but it's like a group of guys standing on the corner and you're walking. If nobody knows who you are, I mean like they're going to try and say something to you,” Eric says.
Like 95% of the city's public school students, Eric is responsible for getting to school on his own. He says he tries to travel with friends, to avoid trouble.
“We definitely want to try to protect them from violence,” says Charles Anderson, assistant principal at Eric's Team Englewood High School. Anderson says it's not uncommon for kids to get jumped, robbed or worse in the tough neighborhoods of Chicago, where during the last school year, 49 public school students were killed.
Principal Peggy Korellis-Byrd says it's hard for her teachers to break through that tough exterior kids have to keep up.
“It's very hard to sort of drop that wall and maybe not be so tough or on-guard in school. So we have to break down a lot of that.”
But as difficult as mornings can be, students say the afternoon journey home is even worse.
It's six o'clock at night when 16-year-old Amber Ward heads home from Manley High School on Chicago's west side.
“And I be scared ‘cause I ignore people. When they try to talk to me I just keep walking. And that makes people so mad these days. People will do anything. I'll be feeling like they're going to pull out a gun and shoot me from the back. So when I keep walking I always do like this, you know, keep looking back,” says Amber.
For Amber, it's a three and a half block walk to the bus stop where we wait 15 minutes.
“I like to sit in the back so I can see everything ahead of me,” she tells me.
And along with sitting in the back of the bus, so she can spot danger better, once off the bus, she tries to keep an eye out for who might be hiding in the dark on side streets she passes.
“I'm so used to seeing it. I mean I'm used to guys standing on the corner.”
Along the way Amber points out a drug house.
“It's abandoned, so a lot of people just be out there selling drugs, playing dice and doing what they do.”
And Amber's final rule of the road: walk fast.
“If I had been by myself I guarantee you I would have been at Jackson. I guarantee you.
It's only when Amber catches sight of her house, 45-minutes after she left school, she knows she's back in safe territory.
“I made it,” she says.