Two weeks ago, some N'DIGO staffers and I, along with members of the Anti-Violence and Community Stabilization Committee officiated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, met with neighborhood students regarding youth violence in Chicago.
The meetings were listening sessions and held at Little Black Pearl and the Chicago Urban League on the city's South Side. The Little Black Pearl meeting consisted of boys and girls not older than 17. The Urban League youth were mostly young men, high school students not older than 17.
The students are street smart and mature beyond their years in some respects. Our students are struggling. They want to succeed in life. They want to go to school. They want jobs. They want to do what is right. But they realize the odds are against them.
The Urban League students sounded more like seasoned older men, not youth who should be beaming with opportunity and a real thirst for living. Their conversations were filled with doomed realities and wondering if anybody cared about their futures.
Below is a compilation of what the youth reported. The students have valuable insight and we should listen more as an adult community as they discuss their issues. In essence, this is in part what the students said.
1. CTA Is a Problem. CTA is the main transportation for most students. Bus drivers sometimes reject a student using their bus card. Sometimes a student attends an after school program and rides the bus late in the day and the bus driver might question the student's activity.
Students cannot use a bus card on the weekends. They suggested putting plain-clothes policemen on the bus for better protection and that the buses could add emergency buttons throughout to prevent incidents. Robberies occur on the buses in gang-like activity from the rear, so that the robbers can run off the bus quickly and undetected.
2. Mentoring. Students repeatedly said they required mentoring. They uniformly want someone who looks like them and who has shared their experiences to mentor them as they navigate life. A mentor is sometimes more valuable than a parent.
These kids pointed out sometimes there are no parent at home, parents work extensive hours and some parents are simply not there. A mentor is sometimes the young person's only respectable adult friend that they can talk to for direction.
The mentor is always available to discuss issues and problems and help with the decision making process, leading the student to making the "right" decision in real time on real issues.
The mentor opens up networks that might lead to college and/or employment opportunities. The students said the mentors should be "competent." I took that to mean, someone they can believe in.
The students all agreed that mentoring should occur by the third grade level and that they would be willing to mentor those younger than them.
3. Youth Employment. These young people want employment year round. Often they're fighting and violence results from need and jealousy of others who have what they don't because they lack the appropriate resources. This is a serious issue. The students suggested they needed internships of any kind and annual employment.
4. "Society is a disaster," said one student. Sometimes policemen are not up to par. Sometimes policemen are called and their response ranges from slow to going in the wrong direction.
Sometimes the teacher tells students that they are more interested in their paycheck than they are the students learning. Such actions cause disrespect of the teacher and rebellious behavior from students. Students feel that they are often disrespected and overlooked. The students have a disrespect of "leadership."
5. Leadership. The students stated clearly they need real leadership from adults. The students feel like they have no direction and that they are reckless because of it.
6. Abandoned Property. Students talked about the vacant land and abandoned buildings in their neighborhoods. These buildings are used as dope havens and for dope trafficking and prostitution. These are trap houses.
7. Job opportunities and Internships. The students suggested they wanted opportunities for jobs and better schools with more activity and guaranteed safety. They want year-long programs where learning is active and free.
One student talked about books being in the pool rather than water. He was discouraged from swimming. The students recognized education is not equal and suggested putting good schools in bad neighborhoods.
8. Safety. The students said they don't feel safe anywhere -- neighborhood, bus, school, home, etc. One student suggested sending the thug kids to Iraq or Afghanistan so they can fight the enemy.
What do you think are some of the problems for students and what are some of the solutions? And how would you be willing to help?
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more