Hundreds of young people speak out on violence; two officials show up to hear them

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More than 400 teenagers from across the city showed up at Dyett High
School to speak their minds at a weekend town hall meeting about the
need for more violence prevention, jobs and opportunity in their
neighborhoods. City aldermen, state representatives, senators and other elected
officials were invited, organizers said. But only two—state treasurer
and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, and the city’s director of
community safety initiatives, Christopher Mallette—showed up to hear
the teens. More than 400 teenagers from across the city showed up at Dyett High School to speak their minds at a weekend town hall meeting about the need for more violence prevention, jobs and opportunity in their neighborhoods.

City aldermen, state representatives, senators and other elected officials were invited, organizers said. But only two—state treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias, and the city’s director of community safety initiatives, Christopher Mallette—showed up to hear the teens.

“It is a startling statement that they had other priorities,” says Manju Rajendran, an organizer for Females United For Action, a group that focuses on empowering young women. “The lawmakers show they have other priorities when they budget and now they are showing it with their time.”

A city-wide coalition of youth groups, Leaders Investing For Equality, co-sponsored the meeting with Northwestern University’s chapter of The Roosevelt Institute, a national college student “think tank” devoted to policy research.

Dyett High School was chosen because two of its students, Martell Barrett and Corey Harris, were killed in separate shootings earlier this fall. The event drew young people from seven coalition organizations, including the neighborhood councils in Brighton Park on the Southwest Side, Logan Square on the Northwest Side and Albany Park on the North Side. Some came on school buses, while others took public transportation.

The coalition’s agenda calls for:

•    20,000 new summer jobs for teenagers

•    More funding for community schools and youth programs

•    Community-based mentoring 

•    Prevention programs that address school, domestic and dating violence

“[We’re here] to shed light on the chronic disinvestment in youth in Chicago and across Illinois,” said Matthew Fischler, policy director of The Roosevelt Institute.

High school and college students shared a range of personal stories—about the death of a friend or family member, the struggle to find money for college tuition and the subsequent need for grants and teenage employment. One student performed slam poetry, even leading the crowded gym in song.

Giannoulias fielded most queries by urging students to read the papers, get online, learn about candidates for public office, vote, and above all, to “take action in a very real way.”

Mallette offered to set up meetings for the teens with elected officials and told them to take their message to the people “who hold the purse strings,” Rajendran says.

Rajendran says that is exactly what the group intends to do. “If they refuse to come to us, we will take our message to them.