Chicago teen, who testified before Senate committee on gun violence, continues to fight for change

Days after his testimony, his niece and a friend were the unintentional victims of gun violence in separate incidents in Chicago

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ByLeah Hope via WLS logo
Thursday, July 14, 2022
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Days after his testimony, his niece and a friend were the unintentional victims of gun violence in separate incidents in Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Ernest Willingham hesitated to come home for summer vacation for a great job offer in the medical field. He purposefully went out of state for college to get away from the violence.

"You have to live life being cautious and think strategically about where exactly to go. Is it fair? No! But you want to live as well," Willingham said.

Willingham testified last month before a Senate committee on protecting American children from gun violence.

"I feel like my role was to speak for those who can't speak for themselves," he said.

WATCH: Chicago teen among those sharing gun violence experience with federal lawmakers

Days after his testimony, he said his niece and a friend were the unintentional victims of gun violence in separate incidents in Chicago.

He said both are recovering but forever changed.

Willingham has also watched the tragedy unfold in Highland Park, as survivors meet with members of Congress.

The 19-year-old, who grew up around North Lawndale and West Garfield Park, said he sees a difference in the attention and resources devoted to the Highland Park community compared to other communities after other tragedies on Chicago's West or South sides.

ALSO SEE: Mother wonders why Highland Park shooting garners more attention than Chicago's weekend death toll

"The young people who were shot in Highland Park, I feel so sorry for their families. We understand. We are with them. We understand exactly how they feel, but there's the disparity that comes in," Willingham said.

As a college junior, Willingham has already gotten early acceptance to medical school.

He is focused on his goals and he hopes those who have the power to reduce gun violence will focus on taking action

"This needs to change and what are you going to do to make sure that this trajectory changes," he said. "We have to make a difference something needs to change we can't wait any longer."

As for next summer, Willingham said he may very well stay away from his home town.