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The Woods Fund Chicago Power of Community Award

Southside Together Organizing for Power for Trauma Center Campaign

In August 2010, just one month before his 19th birthday, Damian Turner, the co-founder of the youth branch of Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), who dreamed of one day becoming a community organizer, was struck in the back by a random bullet just four blocks from the University of Chicago Medical Center. 

But Turner was not admitted to the Emergency Room as the Hospital had shuttered its trauma center in 1988. Instead, paramedics took Turner to the closest Trauma Center - Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 10 miles and a 20 minute car ride away - where he died later that day. 

To friends, STOP members, and Southsiders, the outcome of Damian’s shooting was no surprise. Despite the epidemic of gun violence and the knowledge that prompt treatment saves lives, for 30 years the communities on Chicago’s South Side had been a “Trauma Center desert.” Only three years after the closing of the UofC Trauma Center, in 1991 Michael Reese closed theirs leaving South Side residents without options for specialized emergency care. 

Although activists had long pushed for the University of Chicago to re-open its trauma center, Turner’s death gave new energy to STOP, particularly for its most youthful members. 

In 2012, STOP created a formal coalition and led highly publicized marches, rallies and organizational meetings designed to hold the University accountable for Turner’s death and the deaths of many others in their community. In one protest, hundreds of people gathered to march from the spot where Turner was killed to the University Medical Center; in another, activists camped out in tents. While initially, the University did not acknowledge that the lack of an adult trauma center was a problem, over time pressure both from its own medical staff and the community forced the issue and a change of policy. 

In December 2015, years of community organizing and activism paid off when the University decided to open its adult level-1 trauma center. 

Formally opened in April of last year, the University of Chicago’s trauma center is now the busiest in the city and has become a valued community asset. In its first month alone, the trauma center treated 274 patients, and is expected to serve 2,700 to 4,000 patients each year.