When Krystal Robledo graduated from high school in the Chicago suburbs, she briefly tried community college, but in her own words, “wasn’t motivated.” Her oldest daughter was 2 years-old and she was pregnant with her second daughter, so she thought it just wasn’t the right time for her to be in school.

Instead, she focused her attention on her girls and was a stay-at-home mom. Shortly thereafter, her family moved to the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago. She said, “It was like I was seeing two different worlds; there was a lack of resources and more violence. I felt like I wanted to do something. I didn’t want my daughters growing up like this.”

One day, she got an invitation in her mailbox to attend a prayer vigil, and her attendance there sparked an interest in community activism. As she looked around to see neighbors, aldermen, and community organizations coming together to try and make a change, she felt inspired. The next day, she contacted one of the organizations that was there, called Parents for Peace and Justice, and started volunteering as a youth coordinator. In her role, she would talk to children whose lives had been directly impacted by gun violence. She would ask them their thoughts about how to end gun violence, add their ideas to a binder, and amplify them by sharing them on social media.

“I thought I was doing everything I could, but then I realized that I wasn’t reaching out to people who were committing these violent acts, and so it felt very one-sided,” Krystal said. “We wanted to do more for the boys and young men on the other side of this violence.”

The next shooting happened while Krystal and her family were attending another neighborhood prayer vigil. After the shots rang out, Krystal grabbed her youngest daughter, her husband grabbed the other two, and everyone ran. “When we got home, I was crying, the girls were crying – it was traumatic,” Krystal remembered.

From that experience came the idea for what Krystal calls an “positive loitering event,” which eventually came to be known as “The Healing Corner.” Tables and chairs are set out, food is donated, and community groups, neighbors, and members of the Chicago Police Department all gather to spend time together, dance, listen to music, and just be neighbors. Resources like health checks and information on obtaining a GED are available for those who want to put themselves on a better path.

“The neighborhood loved it, especially the youth. They asked us to continue it, so we did. We called it the Healing Corner, because there is a corner in the neighborhood that was dubbed as the ‘killing corner’ by media. We wanted something positive and hopeful to counter that image.”

Even though the events were successful, Krystal still thought she could be doing more. “I thought to myself that if I had stuck with school from the beginning, I could have already completed my dream of becoming a lawyer. I could be giving legal advice, working on gun reform, and making a bigger difference.”

It was then she decided she could make a bigger change with an education, and enrolled in classes at Harold Washington College. She had a cousin who was attending and loved it, and her mom had attended when it was known as Loop College. As a full-time student and a full-time mom, Krystal stepped back from her work with the Healing Corner and threw herself into her studies.

An impressive GPA helped Krystal to land the prestigious national Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship, which provides $40,000 to students pursing a bachelor’s degree. Knowing she wants to stay in Chicago, Krystal is deciding where she will transfer to once she completes her Associate of Arts in Sociology in May 2019. She plans to study political science, then attend law school, so she can begin a career as a lawyer who focuses on social justice issues.

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