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Artwork Speaks For Young Boys Affected By Gun Violence

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In America last year, about 700 children under the age of 12 were killed or injured in gun violence. Tens of thousands more know someone who has been killed or live in neighborhoods where gunshots are common. Kavitha Cardoza of member station WAMU spent some time with two 9-year-old boys at a program here in Washington, D.C., trying to help children cope with this.

MAURICE KIE: All right. So what are you going to draw?

KAVITHA CARDOZA, BYLINE: Maurice Kie works at the afterschool program called Life Pieces to Masterpieces that works with young boys who live in some of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in D.C. Kie says boys in the program still play a game that he used to play.

KIE: Who can find the most shell casings to bullets on the way to school? You were the coolest one if you found three or four.

CARDOZA: Kie went through the program himself as a child. So he can relate to kids like Jeremiah. He's a toothy 9-year-old with a buzz cut. Jeremiah is part of his school basketball team. He looks after his baby sister, and he loves drawing. Jeremiah and his buddy Tae are rummaging through red, blue and green sketch pens in front of them.

JEREMIAH: I'm going to draw an alley because people be selling drugs there.

CARDOZA: We're using their middle names because their families are worried that they might be visited by the police or social service agencies. Children here create art because they're often too traumatized and don't even have the words to explain how they feel. Jeremiah starts drawing a road with two stick figures holding guns and the words bang, bang.

JEREMIAH: When I be hearing a gun shot, my body be shivering because I think that I might get hurt.

CARDOZA: One time, he was playing a game at his uncle's house.

JEREMIAH: We've been hearing gun shots. He always tells me to scoot back.

CARDOZA: So he tells you to scoot back from the window.

JEREMIAH: Yes. And I really like when he tells me that because that shows me that he's trying to protect me from getting hurt.

CARDOZA: Tell me a little bit about the first time you saw a gun.

JEREMIAH: Well, I had a Lego. It had...

CARDOZA: No, I mean a real gun.

Jeremiah looks at me impatiently. I clearly don't understand. He begins again.

JEREMIAH: I had a Lego. My sister had hid it from me. And I had went in the closet to find it and under there was a gun.

CARDOZA: Oh, when you were searching for your Lego piece there was a real gun.

JEREMIAH: Yes.

CARDOZA: Tae has been sitting hunched over drawing quietly. He says he's happiest when he spends time with his grandmother.

TAE: She buys me clothes. She buys me uniform pants. She gives me a big hug, a tight one like that - like that.

CARDOZA: That's a really tight hug.

In one corner of his artwork, he's drawn three stick figures smiling, holding a ball. There's also a stick figure holding a gun.

So this is a guy with a gun. And who is this?

TAE: My grandfather.

CARDOZA: Your grandfather.

TAE: He's dead.

CARDOZA: How?

TAE: Because somebody shot him.

CARDOZA: Jeremiah pipes up.

JEREMIAH: Tae, weren't you very sad when your grandfather had passed?

TAE: I was crying. My grandma is all alone by herself.

JEREMIAH: Tae, my grandmother is all alone, too. Sometimes you could cheer her up by helping her with things.

CARDOZA: Tae puts his head on the table. He's done talking about guns. He whispers, he doesn't like people dying because families need their mothers and fathers. Jeremiah puts his arm protectively around his friend. In the corner of his artwork, he's written the words please stop hurting people, it's not nice. For NPR News, I'm Kavitha Cardoza in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.