Tony Wade has always been surrounded by violence. He was raised by his grandfather in Greater Grand Crossing on Chicago’s south side, a working-class area that began losing businesses, jobs, and people in the 1970s. By the time Wade was a kid, in the 1990s and early 2000s, very few weeks passed without an armed robbery or burst of gunfire in the blocks circling his home.
Wade’s grandfather did what he could to keep his grandson out of trouble—he sent Wade to Catholic schools, pushed him to excel in his studies, required him to attend church on Sundays, and taught him to work in his carpet business. Wade became a talented basketball player and spent as much time as he could on the court. “I didn’t really have time to run the streets,” Wade says.
But it was impossible to ignore what was happening in them. Divisions and allegiances started forming even before the kids in the neighborhood around Cottage Grove and 75th hit their teens. “It was like, they was on that side of Cottage Grove, we was on this side of Cottage Grove,” Wade says. “It was like a turning point when they joined a gang and they was an opposite gang to us. It started from there.”