GARY, Ind. (WLS) -- A northwest Indiana teen who lost two brothers to gun violence has turned her family's loss into a non-profit group to help others.
"He was 15 years old when he killed my brother, right? He was a baby himself," Aaliyah Stewart said.
At just 18 years old, Stewart has been through a lot. Both her brothers were shot and killed in Gary as a result of gun violence within seven years of each other.
"Growing up, Anthony was like my dad," she said. "He was the big brother who would comfort and protect me from everything and James was with me more for my middle school, going into high school years."
Stewart took her pain and turned it into a positive by creating her own non-profit aimed at combating gun violence when she was only 14. Her slogan is "I am them."
"It's all about us finding our potential, our purpose," Stewart said. "At the end of the day we're all on the same level - trying to grow, trying to strive to be who God taught us to be."
Four years later, Stewart is thriving. After graduating early from high school, she briefly started her own business. Last December she hosted a toy drive, giving away over 500 gifts to children in need. In addition to regular speaking engagements, Stewart also hosts mentoring sessions with other teens just like her, helping and motivating them to chart a future away from the streets.
"I want to go to the University of Chicago for medical school," said Michael Lott, a high school junior. "I want to be a gastroenterologist."
And she's not done yet. Hoping to make an even bigger impact, Stewart now has her eyes firmly set on an even bigger goal: opening up a youth center in Gary.
"I want it to be a 24-hour facility where young people are able to come as a safe haven, along with having an after-school program," she said. "I want to teach a young person how to build a resume, how to talk, how to have etiquette, different things like that. I want to expose a young person in the city of Gary to something outside of Gary."
Stewart is now in the process of finding a building that would suit the youth center's needs. She's holding regular fundraising events and also meeting with city officials to try and gain their support.
She said that no matter what, she's determined to open the center in June 2020.
For more information, visit the I Am Them website.
Building a Better Chicago is an ongoing series of ABC7 Eyewitness News reports spotlighting the people and groups working toward solutions and improvements across our area. If you know of someone who is Building A Better Chicago, contact ABC7 here.
Merrillville teen creates non-profit in Gary after losing 2 brothers to gun violence
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