HYDE PARK — Christopher Jackson, 15, wants to feel safe in his community, and to do that he proposed ideas like building community centers on vacant lots to offer teens a place to play video games.
The Chatham resident participated in the Youth Shout Out Summer 2015 program, where he worked with a small team of youths from across Chicago. The goal was to let the youths come up with possible solutions to stem the violence in their neighborhoods. The initiative was supported by Allstate.
After planning and researching since April 27, the 14 participants shared their ideas on Thursday evening with a panel and an audience at the Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Youth Shout Out was supported Chicago Community Trust and nonprofit Get In Chicago, which was co-founded by Allstate’s CEO Tom Wilson and Loop Capital’s CEO, Jim Reynolds.
“We have hope deserts, which lead to violent behavior, despair, depression,” said Tom Wilson, Allstate CEO and board member of Get In Chicago. “At the community level, hope is the very thing that bring communities together. These kids are the ones who can take away the hope deserts and turn them into green pastures.”
The teens who participated in the Youth Shout Out Summer Program also sit on Get In Chicago’s youth advisory board. They were split into groups with a designer from Gravity Tank, who helped them design and present their ideas.
Broken into three teams — safe opportunities, safe spaces and safe mobility — each group first presented short videos that showed one of the participants riding through his or her neighborhood, pointing out the unsafe blocks, describing the long detours taken to get home safely and the abundance of vacant lots. Next, they presented slideshows that included renderings, routes and images of ways to make their neighborhoods safer.
Christopher worked with the “Safe Spaces” group, which proposed transforming vacant lots and building an urban oasis on them. Some ideas included a cafe, a small sports field and an art gallery.
“It would be great if we can get more communities to come together and fix up these lots to what we want, to what we need,” he said. “Like maybe we can have somewhere where people can go play video games if they don’t have the console or the money for it.”
He added, “I feel like in my community there is nowhere safe to hang out, so we go to the library on King Drive, on 79th [street],” he said.
Christopher said the experience was a “fun process” and a “great experience.”
Michael Sims, 18, from South Shore, also worked on the team with Christopher. For him, the best idea was the mobile peace circle. His group proposed that at least two facilitators travel to areas where they are most needed and help teens resolve their issues before they escalate. They would also train the teens in the community, who would in return show others how to be peaceful leaders.
“I think if we had that, it would give most teens the chance to express themselves verbally, so they won’t have to resort to violence. They can just talk about their problems,” Sims said.
He said, “If more people came to help, I think it [would] give more teens hope that they will grow up and won’t have to witness any of their friends dying, they’ll get to grow up and have a successful life.”
Antwan Barner, 19, of Woodlawn, said the experience was "exciting" because he was able to meet people from other backgrounds and cultures.
One panelist, DeAnna McLeary of True Star Media and Foundation, said she enjoyed hearing all of the ideas and that they are all great solutions and “doable,” especially a proposal for teen jobs presented by the "Safe Opportunities" group.
The group suggested that community centers set up computers so teens could log into a program and complete easy tasks for businesses and organizations.
“I know when you give a young person a job, you change their circumstance, but not only them, because some young people become breadwinners in their family,” McLeary said. “They become providers for their siblings.”
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