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Photos by ThoughtPoet | The TRiiBE
This article is a part of the Chicago Fund for Safe & Peaceful Communities, which offers rapid-response grant opportunities to community-based activities that make neighborhoods safer.

Deshon Hannah was 16 years old when he was shot. It happened after his cousin got into a physical fight with someone across the street from where Hannah hustled drugs on 55th and Halsted on the South Side. In retaliation, Hannah says, his cousin’s adversaries later caught up with them a few blocks away and pulled out a shotgun.

“‘Which one you want?’” Hannah recalls the gunman asking another man, who pointed at Hannah.

“I froze up for a minute. Then I just took off running,” remembers Hannah, who is now 21. “He shot, like, eight times.”

Hannah ended up at John H. Stroger Hospital, where he stayed for a week. A trauma specialist from Healing Hurt People Chicago wanted to help him leave the street life, but Hannah wasn’t ready.

Deshon Hannah, 21

A year later, in 2016, Hannah’s cousin was shot. This time, Hannah was ready to change his life. He joined Project Fire, a partnership between ArtReach Chicago and Healing Hurt People Chicago that uses glassblowing as a form of trauma therapy for victims of gun violence.

“Before I started Project Fire., I wasn’t really coping too good,” Hannah explains. “I would get high anxiety, like, somebody is going to come kill me. When I started blowing glass, I took my irritation out on the glass.”

On Sept. 28, Project Fire is partnering with glass paperweight dealer The L.H. Selman Gallery for a glassmaking demonstration at the Project Fire Studio. With the help of a grant from the Chicago Fund for Safe & Peaceful Communities, Project Fire was able to fund a portion of its summer glassblowing program and the Sept. 28 event with Selman Gallery.

“They [Selman Gallery] are bringing glass artists from around the world and they are inviting the public to come blow glass with Project Fire participants,” says Marine Tempels, the development director at ArtReach Chicago.

Angelo Pillow is a recent addition to Project Fire The 15-year-old Collin Academy High School student was shot while walking home from the store in his Washington Park neighborhood.

After spending four days in the hospital, Pillow had a lot of pent-up frustrations inside of him. Joining Project Fire, and learning how to blow glass, helped him focus on something other than his trauma.

“When I got out the hospital, I was just angry,” Pillow says. “[Glassblowing] takes my mind off of everything else except the glass because the glass will burn me.”

Angelo Pillow, 15

Hannah agrees. Glassblowing involves extreme heat – placing molten glass into a furnace at a temperature of about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, glassblowers are at risk of severe burns if distracted or careless.

“You’re not even worried about your PTSD or whatever you got going on,” Hannah explains. “The only thing you’re focused on is not burning yourself. That’s how it helped me cope.”

Prior to joining Project Fire, Hannah only focused on making money in the streets. Now he’s thinking about going back to school. He thanks Project Fire for not only teaching him the art of glassblowing, but also how to stay focused in the outside world.

“It’s a good program. You get paid,” Hannah says. “You get a chance to be away from your neighborhood. It builds your marketing skills or your salesman skills. It puts you out there in your own entrepreneurial way.”

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