The Youth Connection: Realizing their Worth & Potential
A group of boys and young men grab a bite at The Healing Corner before they leave to play basketball with their new ball.
Division & Lawndale, West Humboldt Park
As some of you may know, The Healing Corner is a community outreach program that goes to different street corners known for violence to pass out free food, hugs, and resources in an effort to cultivate a dialogue around the issue of violence while building community relationships. Largely serving the West Side of Chicago since October of 2015, occasionally we visit other neighborhoods further north or south. The Healing Corner received a request earlier this month from a friend of the group, a mother of 8 young boys, to host an event in West Humboldt Park. Her specific block is known for heavy drug dealing and had previously raised too many safety concerns for us to hold an event. But considering a young man lost his life there in June, she wanted us to show the block something better, safer – something positive.
Each Healing Corner experience is tailored to the block and community residents it’s serving at the time. I decided to focus this Healing Corner on education to raise awareness on recent CPS cuts and solutions to the so-called funding crisis. I have been a substitute teacher at schools experiencing severe budget cuts and I can say that not only is teacher morale low, but students also feel disinvested in. They lose any enthusiasm to learn when they’re subjected to bare classrooms with little resources. I even witnessed a high school student in a Special Ed class express his anger and frustration that he had to be in the classroom instead of on the block making money. Our most vulnerable youth are being denied a true investment in their future. I believe educating those most at-risk will help communities unite and enable many to see past this senseless violence often triggered by trivial things like loose cigarettes and $20 bags of weed. Community education is not just about the resources available to them for everyday living, but about the educational decisions and policies affecting their communities as a whole and what can be done about them.
I visited the same block a few days ago to give some gun locks to a family that requested a few, only to pull up at the same time that a police raid was going on at one of the homes. This very scene is exemplary of how many of the young men in this neighborhood are being locked away before we even have a chance to reach them and show them life holds more than drug dealing. Some young men are born and raised surrounded by drug dealing. Many are short-sighted and can only see the fast money they can gain through dealing drugs. Many have also struggled in school, coming from poorly funded Special Ed classrooms, and lack the confidence to try and get a legitimate job. Others lack motivation to enter a legitimate occupation, having never been exposed to career paths that will pay them like the streets or hire them with their background.
As a community, we need to focus our energy on the legislative damage being perpetrated against us stemming from the whims of politicians and their governmental policies. Issues such as the state budget stalemate has forced countless social service agencies to downsize or shut their doors and serves as an excuse for further neglect of funding our public schools. Chicago has already suffered the biggest U.S. mass school closure of 54 schools in primarily low-income black and Latino areas in 2013. In 2012, the city closed 6 of the 12 Mental Health Centers in the same areas. With a governor who invests in private prisons, it’s not hard to connect the dots to where they expect the most vulnerable youth and young adults to end up.
Many people dismiss these young men and boys of the West and South sides as thugs or scum that should be locked up without even hearing their story. What many fail to realize is that drug dealing is happening right in front of these young people all day and night. It becomes a way of life. In some cases, you are expected to do the same as you get older. Now more than ever, communities themselves need to lead the push for an agenda that’s powered by the people’s voice and needs. We can use political action and organization to change these young men’s perception and show them a different life is possible! Their ability to organize can be used to do something much more powerful. Let’s involve the young men on our corners and ask them, what do YOU need in order to get off that corner? Are any politicians meeting them at the corner and asking them that? With political elections coming up – we need to hold our elected officials responsible. They need to be accountable to us and we need to empower our people to know the power of their vote! We need to ensure that our Aldermen are speaking and acting for us. Our elected officials should not be allowed to invest in tourist projects such as Navy Pier when our communities are lacking basic essentials that will allow them to build a better future for themselves and generations that will come after them. Communities are left scraping for crumbs when TIF money designed to help these communities are funneled away to projects like Navy Pier and DePaul’s new stadium.
Just as Colonials divided and conquered African countries, like exploiting minerals in the Congo for first world use, there is a land grab going on in the West and South Sides of Chicago. Gentrification is growing at an exponential rate, while at the same time these boys are being locked up and/or killed. The new white neighbors in my neighborhood have already started an organization to advocate for a dog park. Surely, we can organize for our children's education. Parents are being duped by charter school marketing and recruiters with the façade of a new building and new technology. Time and time again our public services are being privatized for profit. Traditional public schools are actually doing more with less and obtain higher growth rates with their students because of the quality of teachers. We shouldn't be seduced by charter schools. Our children’s education should not be for profit.
Now more than ever, it is critical to our survival that we get organized, that we advocate and vote for what we want, need, and believe in. Everyone has an important part to play in order to ensure the survival and success of our communities.