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Stories about kids, guns and how to stop the violence. Precious Lives, created by 371 Productions, is a 2-year, 100-part weekly radio series about gun violence and young people in the Milwaukee area. The series applies a public health lens to each story to help listeners understand the full scope of the problem: who are the victims and the shooters; how are the weapons obtained; and what can we change about the environment that contributes to violence in Milwaukee?

Audience Moved by Real Stories at 'Precious Lives: The Live Show'

Titus Wamai
Precious Lives: The Live Show performers.

The Pabst Theater was packed to the rafters last night as the voices behind WUWM’s collaborative series Precious Lives came to life. Two dozen students and adults from the Milwaukee area used song and words to express how gun violence has touched their lives.

Before Precious Lives: The Live Show, Ben Duke shared why he had come.  He has decades of experience working with high school students.  

Duke is part of Milwaukee Public School’s division of school safety.

“I think working with youth is very difficult because it seems they’re becoming more violent. Violence seems to be entertainment to them especially with social media and we’re trying to turn that around and help them,” Duke says.

A couple hours later, Duke says the performance profoundly moved him.

Credit Titus Wamai
Thomas Leonard reciting his poem.

“Yes it did it did. Because I work so closely with the youth, I only get at one point when they talked about school they didn’t talk about a warm place, a place where they felt safe like home, like it used to be. I heard about IEPs, I heard about pink slips, about the way they’re talked to – everything was a punishment and that’s what they think school is becoming and I thought wow, I’ve worked with that and they’re absolutely right, and we’ve got to get it right, he says.

Duke says he now intends to listen more, not just look at kids’ behavior.

Suzanne Letellier says her career in community health has taught her that gun violence is a public health issue.

She couldn’t get over the resilience of the teens on stage.

“Just remembering there is hope, because everyone on the stage has experienced a lot of sorrow. And the youth on the stage they talked about mentorship and how we could become mentors. The youth on the stage could be mentors to adults. That’ how amazing they were,” Letellier says.

Michelle Bryant says mentoring is part of her life, yet she found the evening sobering.

“I couldn’t help but wonder even with all that they are doing to stay focused to stay positive, you still have to go home and what is that like still go back to the same community. And so you realize even with all the positive you see today, these young people will need our support to make sure that they not only survive but thrive. The work is never done. You just don’t get to walk away,” Bryant says.

Young Markayla Peavy didn’t know what to expect as she entered the ornate theater. She came with her Girl Scout troop.

Peavy quietly waited for a chance to share her reaction to the performance.

“They showed their emotions and that’s kind of hard to do, seeing that they lost a loved one and it hurts. And we should actually try to stop the violence and I want to be the one who does that. Maybe start a program to get people to donate to help stop the violence,” Peavy says.

Peavy has also experienced violence.

“Well, a couple years ago my cousin got shot because he was hanging with the wrong group of people,” Peavy says.

Her cousin didn’t survive.

Precious Lives wants to take short “pop up” versions of the show to clubs, businesses and churches.

Markayla Peavy thinks that’s a very good idea.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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