KAOS youth club uses sports, mentoring as alternative to Chicago’s chaotic streets

By Hannah Gebresilassie

Ty Young is giving back to the streets that put a bullet in his son.

While Young, a pharmacy tech, couldn’t keep his son from being shot in 2013, he could do something about the South Side youth culture that created the perilous landscape in the first place.

“If you see everything negative around you, then you think it’s the normal,” says Young, who founded KAOS, Keeping Adolescents Off the Street, an Auburn Gresham-based nonprofit that provides sports and educational activities to keep boys off the streets.

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Young understands well the threat children face, whether they’re caught up in street gangs or are innocent bystanders, like his son Cameron, shot in a drive-by at 84th and Constance. Cameron Young sustained shots in the chest and hip when gangs collided nearby.

Unaffiliated with gangs, Cameron was penalized for simply being at the “wrong place at the wrong time,” Young says.

Cameron survived the attack and bounced back after being treated at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Now 17, he is a junior with aspirations to play football in college.

Young hopes to eliminate experiences like Cameron’s by providing an alternative to gangs and violence in a city where nearly a quarter of 16-19-year-old black males were out of school and work in 2014, according to a new University of Illinois at Chicago study.

KAOS is just one of many Chicago organizations providing an alternative for kids growing up in unsafe neighborhoods. Research shows teenagers growing up in lower-income neighborhoods lack access to ample after-school programming.

Young wanted to change that.

“When you know that it’s a level that you can reach, you have something to strive for,” says Young, following a basketball game at Dolton Park District, in south suburban Dolton.

Rather than give up after his son was shot, Young says the incident is another reason to keep KAOS going because boys are safer playing basketball on a secure court than the streets. At presstime, 143 shooting incidents have occurred on the South Side this year, double the amount from the same time last year.

“Sports is a tool that can help them stay focused, not necessarily get them to the NBA or NFL.” Young says. “Kids are around other likeminded positive players, so it’s a much healthier environment than getting caught up with gangbangers on the street.”

Photo at top: Ty Young and KAOS basketball team members huddle following a game at Dolton Park District. (Hannah Gebresilassie/MEDILL)