Category Archives: Youth

Communities act on food deserts

With Michelle Obama visiting a food desert in Chicago – and a new report indicating some progress on food access in Chicago – a new video from the Westside Writing Project offers authentic youth voices with a ground-level view of the issue.

Gwendolyn Pepin and Richard Marion report the statistics, particularly the disparities in access to affordable health food in low-income African American and Latino communities.  And they cover the health impacts, including higher levels of diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease.

They also look at community efforts to address the problem, including the Healthy Stores Campaign, which places fresh fruit stands in convenience stores, along with the West Humboldt Park Farmers Market, the Monarch Community Garden, Patchwork Farm, and a new fresh food cooperative at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

Also new from WWP is a video report looking at the key issues in the NBA lockout, which “reminds us that professional sports is really all about business.”

Undocumented youth: dreaming, waiting…

In the last couple years we’ve heard about “Dream students” – college students who’ve “come out” as undocumented and protested to press Congress on the DREAM Act, which would offer a path to citizenship.

With vivid profiles of five young Back of the Yards residents, a new report  in the Gate gives us a view of the many kinds of challenges these young people confront – as well as the impact on many who don’t make it.

For kids who’ve grown up fully integrated into local school and culture, realizing the implications for their lives of being undocumented can be a profound shock.

“You feel lost,” says Quintiliano Rios, 21.  “You feel like all doors are closing on you.”

As a teenager, Aurora Vizcarra, 20, became convinced that school was pointless for her.  Today she works in a factory and a restaurant, while raising her two-year-old daughter.

University of Chicago professor Roberto Gonzalez explains that the students who end up succeeding  are those who gain support from teachers and counselors – and are able to talk about their immigration status with them.  In many Chicago schools, large class sizes make it difficult to establish those kinds of relationships, he has found.

At Holy Cross Church, immigration committee chair Jose Alonso works to motivate young people to prepare for college.  Those who succeed become expert fundraisers, he said.

Unfortunately, their future depends not just on their own talent and hard work but on the vagaries of national politics.

West Side youth learn media production

There’s lots of talk about a longer school day for CPS, but little attention on how it actually looks to students and teachers on the ground.

That’s the subject of a new video by Tiara Nelson of the Westside Writers Project.  It’s one of several produced so far by students in WWP’s Summer Digital Workshop.

Others deal with longtime community development advocate Bill Howard; the new Richard M. Daley Library; a community planning process to create gateways to West Humboldt Park; air pollution – and particularly the effects of two nearby coal-powered plants; and the new gymnasium at Rowe-Clark Noble Charter School, with highlights from the annual student-staff basketball game.

Started in 2006 as an after-school writing project focused on producing The Ave., a community newsletter, WWP has expanded to summer and in-school programming while branching out to video podcasts.  The summer workshop – led by two students, with assistance from adults – allowed a lot more kids to get trained and experienced in new media technology.

Students chose and research subjects, developed scripts including locations, camera angles and interview questions, shot interviews, and edited their podcasts, learning about transitions, overlays, and use of text.

Still to come is a podcast on the issue of food deserts, so stay tuned!

Black and blue in Chicago

“I see the police as a bunch of folks who are trained to abuse us,” one young African American tells Salim Muwakkil.  “All they do is harass you.”

Muwakkil looks at relations between Chicago police and black youth in Black and Blue in Chicago, a new installment of his series on “The Other Chicago” in In These Times.

There’s a long history of distrust, and things don’t seem to be getting better.

Muwakkil examines starkly disproportionate rates of arrests and killings of African American youth by Chicago police, low rates of sanctions for abusive officers, and the declining proportion of African Americans on the police force.

Will a new strategy by new leadership – a shift from paramilitary-style units to more beat cops – make a difference?  Maybe.

“Reassigning officers to beats where they get to know the communities is a good thing, if they come in with the right attitude,” says one veteran observer. “But if they come in indignant because they were reassigned from more favorable posts, then it will just compound the problem.”

Hearing on youth unemployment

Jarrett Norwood, 18, is volunteering at Ashunti Community Resource Center since funding for his summer job dried up – and he’s afraid he won’t be able to pay the fees for community college this fall.  “I can’t really afford to work for free,” he said.

Norwood was among hundreds of West Side residents at a hearing on jobs held by State Representative LaShawn Ford, AustinTalks reports.

“We see that the system is failing,” said Ashunti CEO Regina Lewis. “A lot of our kids have given up. They don’t believe in the system, period.”  More here.

Black Chicago Divided

  • A 17-year-old West Sider who goes to the Gold Coast to intimidate and steal (“We can get good stuff down there,” he says; “You can’t get no iPods or nothing like that on the West Side”).
  • A black nationalist activist who advocates concealed carry legislation to allow the black community to defend itself against crime.

Along with a range of activists from Chicago’s black community, these are some of the voices in Salim Muwakkil’s “Black Chicago Divided,” discussing long-smoldering class and generational conflicts that are intensifying as conditions worsen in communities like North Lawndale.

With devastating unemployment and crime rates, North Lawndale faces an “emergency situation,” says Mark Carter of Voice of the Ex-Offender.  Carter focuses on confronting established civil rights and black political leaders.  “The death and destruction in our community could not have happened without the black leadership elite’s cooperation,” he says.

Among the topics raised are Mayor Emanuel’s police redeployment efforts – many in the black community say “the mayor is taking aggressive action only  because most of the victims are white,” while the areas most in need continue to be neglected – and the shortfalls in a federal program to direct HUD spending to low-income workers and business.  (WBEZ’s Natalie Moore recently reported on complaints about HUD’s Section 3 program.)

“Black Chicago Divided” is the first in a series of in-depth features by Muwakkil, a senior editor at In These Times, investigating the lives of those African-American youth who have borne the brunt of the Great Recession; their plight is particularly acute in de-industrializing, segregated Chicago, Muwakkil says.