Teen shooting victim urges peers to reject violence

April 20, 2011 9:13:02 PM PDT
A teenager whose life was forever changed by a gunshot delivered a message to his peers Tuesday about the negative effects of violence.

In September, Ondelee Perteet was shot and left paralyzed from the neck down. Now, Perteet is using his experience to persuade other students in Chicago to help stop the violence.

Perteet was nervous Tuesday since he was about to do something he has not done before - speak to a school assembly. He was unsure of what to say, and he certainly didn't expect a standing ovation.

Perteet spoke to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Avalon Park school who gathered to hear a victim talk about the social and emotional toll of gun violence.

"I was shot September 5th, 2009. Three days before the start of school," said Perteet.

The bullet wound to his neck rendered Ondelee a quadraplegic. Three times a week he undergoes therapy. He's made significant progress with left arm movement. But he has a long way to go. There are no promises. Only his undeniable determination.

"I'm determined to do that, to get back swimming, doing the things I used to do and things that I loved to do. So, you know, I just work hard," said Perteet.

From his slightly younger contemporaries come the questions - some light - some tough. Is he angry? How does he cope?

"The question is do you appreciate life more? Oh yeah, of course. I appreciate it because he gave me a second chance at life," said Perteet.

Ondolee defines himself now as being like a baby in a new life. "You must crawl," he says, "before you walk, and I will walk again." And part of his new life is defined by this mission - telling students about the value of education and the path away from violence.

"And when he talks about what he went through, that gives them the message this is someone my age, someone in my community. This could happen to me," said Shontae Higginbottom, Avalon Park Principal.

'Reach just one, and you've succeeded' is a mantra that Ondelee and his mom have adopted. And for a 15-year-old in a much different life, it doesn't hurt to hear all that applause.

Still Ondelee knows the road will be tough with no guarantees. For now he's off to speak at another school.