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Chicago Public Schools and Project Unloaded Partner to Lift Up Teen Voices to Take on Gun Violence Through Social Media Marketing Campaigns

This Summer, High School Students Learned to Empower their Peers to Reduce Gun Violence Through Social Media Marketing Campaigns with Support from Top Chicago Marketing Firms

CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools’ Choose to Change (C2C) program and Project Unloaded, an organization working to reduce gun violence through cultural campaigns, worked together over the last six weeks on a summer jobs initiative aimed at elevating teen voices to counter the nation’s gun violence. The program included nearly 50 Choose to Change students and culminated today with a student contest judged by Mayor Brandon Johnson, Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez, artist Tonika Lewis Johnson and other high-profile Chicagoans.

During the program, marketing experts from Edelman and Havas advised the high school students as they developed youth-centered marketing campaigns focused on changing the narrative around gun violence and gun use among Chicago teens. The winning entry from the student contest will be featured in Project Unloaded’s upcoming social media advertising campaign to empower teens in Chicago and other cities to counter the myth that armed teens are safer and inspire them to focus on their futures.

“Chicago teens know a lot about social media and sadly, many of them know a lot about gun violence too,” said Nina Vinik, founder and executive director of Project Unloaded. “Through this innovative partnership between Project Unloaded and Chicago Public Schools, teens combined their lived experiences with the skills they use every day to communicate with their peers to help build safer communities free of gun violence.”

Chicago averages nearly one mass shooting per week, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab. Between those mass tragedies are many more homicides, gun suicides and other shootings that change the fabric of Chicago communities. Nationally, gun violence is the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S. And according to research from Project Unloaded, half of young people worry about being shot weekly or more often. 

“Our young people have seen all too often the life-altering consequences of gun violences in schools and communities across our city and across the nation,” said Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez. “Engaging and uplifting student voices so that we can better understand their lived experiences is essential to developing programs that reduce gun violence among teens and young adults. We are thankful for our partnership with Project Unloaded and the activism of our incredible young people to promote peace and end gun violence in our community.”

In addition to the young people who participated in Project Unloaded, Chicago Public Schools partnered with community-based organizations Youth Advocate Program, Bright Star Community Outreach, New Life Centers, Lifeline to Hope, and BUILD Chicago to employ 900 young people across the city as part of the Mayor’s goal of employing students this summer.

Despite overwhelming evidence on the dangers posed by guns, gun ownership is on the rise in the U.S., and many Americans believe the myth that guns make them safer. Through creative, cultural campaigns, Project Unloaded works to reach teens with the facts about gun risks to empower them to choose, on their own terms, not to use guns. Last year, Project Unloaded reached more than one million young people on TikTok and Snapchat with the message that they are safer not using guns. Through this partnership with Chicago Public Schools and the ad campaign that will follow it, that reach will grow significantly.

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