Razia Hutchins spent too much time worrying which of her friends wouldn’t be in class the next day, having succumbed to the gun violence that was prevalent in their South Side Chicago neighborhood.
So the then-sophomore at Perspectives Charter School decided to do something about it.
“My peers felt like they didn’t have a future, like their lives would soon be taken because of gun violence, so what was the point of dreaming,” says Hutchins, now a freshman communication major at Mizzou.
Leading a Movement
Frustrated and scared, Hutchins approached her principal, Angela Brooks-Rallins, with an idea: She wanted to bring all of Chicago’s high school students together to march down the streets for peace. “I wanted to go Malcolm X, but she wanted to go Dr. King,” Hutchins says about the conversation.
With Brooks-Rallins’ guidance, Hutchins focused her goal, applied for the right permits and, in 2013, organized the first I Am for Peace march. Her message: “Don’t be a victim. Be a voice.”
At first, some people doubted a march could change attitudes. But 500 students attended the first event, and in 2015, more than 3,000 students and community members, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, participated. The march is also the subject of a 30-minute documentary, I Am for Peace, which follows Hutchins and classmates as they plan the now-annual happening.
“People saw this as the start of something that can save lives,” Hutchins says. “A lot of people told me the movement had a positive influence on them.”
Tiger Mentor, Celebrity Peers
Through Emanuel’s involvement in the march, Hutchins met Tarrah Cooper, BJ ’08, the mayor’s press secretary. When Cooper heard Hutchins was planning to attend Mizzou in the fall, she quickly became Hutchins’ mentor.
“I was really impressed by her poise and her compassion,” Cooper says. “She wants to be an advocate for her generation, to be an activist for peace.”
“She’s an incredibly gifted and strategic leader.”
Cooper encouraged Hutchins to continue her activism at Mizzou and to get to know the challenges facing Columbia, her new community. Hutchins plans to continue her efforts at promoting peace and stopping violence. But she’s going to take Cooper’s advice to study hard while also taking time to enjoy the college experience. She’s excited to hang out with her brother, Romanus Hutchins, a sophomore physics major; attend Mizzou football games; and dig into her political communication classes.
“I’ve always been an activist,” says Hutchins, who has become a celebrity among young activists. She, along with stars such as Selena Gomez, Jennifer Hudson and Common, was featured on We Day, a one-day event celebrating young people who are taking action on social issues such as bullying, body image, mental illness and equality. ABC aired an hourlong broadcast of the event Aug. 21.
“Even if I can help change one person, it’ll have a domino effect.”
I Am For Peace Documentary
I Am For Peace shows how three Chicago high school students took lessons from the classroom to the streets to organize one of the largest student-led peace marches in the city's modern-day history. On June 5, 2014, 2,000 middle- and high-school students from Perspectives' five schools were joined by community activists, local elected officials, business leaders and more than 30 media outlets for the I Am For Peace march and rally to stand up against violence in too many of Chicago's neighborhoods.