Urban issues take center stage in two Chicago performances

As a longtime physician in a community health clinic on Chicago's South Side, Doriane Miller says she began seeing a disturbing trait among her young patients.

Many of them had either been victims of gunfire or knew someone who had been shot.

The impact she saw was devastating.

Children growing up and living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the third-largest U.S. city were exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress disorder-not unlike combat veterans fighting wars thousands of miles away.

"One would think that being shot would be a significant, life-changing event," Miller says. But what has become too common in some of the city's hardest-hit areas also has gone a long way in normalizing what many others would consider anomalous in their lives.

"I've had patients brush it off," she says.

Still, victims of violent crime struggle to fully recover and younger crime victims fall behind in school and engage in risky behaviors, like unprotected sex and drug and alcohol abuse.

After receiving a grant in 2010 to organize health seminars on the topic, Miller wrote a play, "It Shoudda Been Me," which follows a fictional character, DeShawn, after his friend is killed in a drive-by.

Tiombe Eiland, a retired CPS teacher who now is working in a Catholic school in the Roseland neighborhood, says the play has had a major impact on her students.

Many students related to the play's main character and, much to Eiland's surprise, bared their "vulnerabilities."

"They would open up in front of adults and in front of other students that they didn't necessarily know," she says.

"It Shoudda Been Me" is being presented in collaboration with the University of Chicago Urban Health Initiative and will be performed by the youth theater at Chicago's eta Creative Arts Foundation, located at 7558 S. South Chicago Ave.

The youth theater also is premiering "Have You Seen My Daddy?" a musical that chronicles the impact of a single-parent upbringing.

Written and directed by eta's artistic director, Runako Jahi, the performance premieres Dec. 26 and runs through June 1.

Inspired by his work with teenagers during his weekly Saturday theater workshop, Jahi set out to write an episodic musical that tackles major urban issues borne from fatherless homes.

But from a "sense of hopelessness," Jahi says, "you can survive regardless of the situation you're in. ...

This play is to benefit young people by not preaching at them, but by showing examples of different situations."

General admission tickets are $6 for adults and children and $5 for groups of 25 or more. For reservations, call (773) 752-3955.

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