HYDE PARK —Continuing his promise to put a spotlight on gun violence, the Rev. Al Shaprton hosted a town hall meeting Thursday at Hyde Park Academy High School to hear solutions from panelists and residents.
What he heard over and over again was that more jobs for young men would reduce shootings.
"More jobs are needed to stop the rash of gun violence. It is hard to be outside shooting and robbing people when you are at work or worried about losing your job," said Harold Lucas, a 69-year-old community activist and president and CEO of the Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, a nonprofit organization in Bronzeville.
"These young black men need gainful employment and entrepreneurship if they are going to have a chance at getting off these streets," Lucas said.
Panelists echoed that message throughout the meeting.
"When you give a person a job you give them a purpose to stay out of trouble and a goal to work toward. Our young people need this especially during these hard times," said Diane Latiker, founder and executive director of Kids Off The Block Inc., a youth nonprofit in Roseland.
"If you wake up in the morning with nothing to do, you will go out and find something to occupy your time and usually for youths it's violence," Latiker said.
Sharpton, who was joined by 12 panelists, started the town hall meeting by clarifying his purpose for coming to Chicago from his base in New York every Thursday.
"I have heard that some black folks think I am here to take over. But I say to them, 'How can I take over when black folks don't control anything for me to take over?'" Sharpton said.
"I am here to help and bring attention to a matter that is destroying communities across the country, including in New York," Sharpton said.
And helping youth is among the things the Chicago Urban League is known for doing, said Theresa Nelson, a senior vice president for the CUL.
"As a mother of two and a Chicago Public Schools graduate, I want you to know that the Urban League helps people get housing, jobs and educated," she told the audience of about 300. "And what we tell them is that they should not settle for less and should always expect more because we [blacks] deserve better."
Other panelists included Minister Jeffrey Muhammad of the Nation of Islam; the Rev. Janette Wilson, a senior advisor, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; the Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in Austin; Maureen Forte, president of the Chicago chapter of the National Action Network; and Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health and chairman of the state's Violence Prevention Taskforce.
"Violence is a learned behavior and if it's learned it can be unlearned," Hasbrouck said.
"Every three years there are approximately 1,000 young people — primarily male and primarily black — murdered across the state. Eighty-percent of those murders between the ages of 15 and 24 are committed in the city of Chicago," he said.
The state's top doctor also said it is time to stop using methods aimed at curbing violence that do not work.
"Putting youths on trial as adults don't work. Sending youths to 'boot camp' don't work either. We have to abandon these things and concentrate on things that do work," said Hasbrouck.
Panelists also took questions from the audience.
Sel Dunlap, a community activist, asked panelists what they thought about securing grants to pay youths to clean vacant lots.
"I think that's a good idea, sir. Vacant lots are filled with a lot of trash that usually is from young people tossing their garbage outside," said Wilson of Rainbow/Push. "Any job is better than no job."
Sharpton said he would review a taping of the town hall meeting to analyze what was said and how best to incorporate the suggested gun violence-reducing solutions.
"If it works here in Chicago it will work anywhere there is a gun violence problem," said the 59-year-old Baptist minister and MSNBC host. "A gun violence plan in Chicago will serve as a model for other cities to follow."