PULLMAN — Community leaders and residents of Roseland gathered Tuesday to try to figure out how to end what one of the participants called the "cradle-to-prison pipeline."
The group's efforts focused on finding ways to keep teens out of juvenile detention centers.
The brainstorming session Tuesday night involved 50 to 60 people at Olive Harvey Community College, 10001 S. Woodlawn Ave. Included were members of the faith community, restorative justice practitioners, and teen organizations supported by the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools.
“Whatever we craft and develop is going to have to come from the community,” said the event’s lead organizer, the Rev. Robert E. Biekman of Maple Park United Methodist Church. “We need their input about what’s going to work best for them to meet their needs.”
The different groups have been meeting for the last seven months, he said; Tuesday’s meeting was the first that assemble individual community members.
They are addressing three areas, Biekman said: working with young people who return to the community after incarceration; finding alternatives to taking teens to jail; and avoiding suspension and expulsion from school.
“Rather than get suspended or expelled, you would have another way to redirect them or divert them; these are all ways we can break that cradle-to-prison pipeline,” Biekman said.
During the event, people sat in groups of five and answered questions presented to the room.
“How as a community do you see Roseland supporting and caring for the youth and young adults that live in this community that may be justice involved?”
The Rev. Rich Darr from United Methodist Church of Geneva said that churches like Biekman’s already are working with law enforcement.
“The Maple Park Methodist Church is collaborating with the police, and they’re genuine about helping the youth,” he said.
Others mentioned that Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) is trying to bring more jobs to the ward, another way to keep young people off the streets.
More arts programs and outdoor activities would help, said Kathleen Dytrych, who came with Darr.
Others said there could be efforts like horseback riding, something that isn’t the norm in their Far South Side community. One attendee suggested more shelters that offer food and beds for those who need them. More structure in detention centers might help keep teens from going back, was another idea.
Others said Roseland needs more community centers to help young people tap into talents that can lead to a career.
Eddie Davis, 73, who has owned a furniture-making business in the community for 35 years, said he works with ex-convicts. He said more trade programs in the school system, such as automotive classes, could be one way to get youths on a career path.
“It’s important to have a trade because not everyone is going to go to college,” he said.
LaQuesha Clemons, 15, of Roseland said she liked hearing from the older generation because it gave her a different perspective. The event was a success, she said.
“I thought it was really helpful,” LaQuesha said, adding that the community needs more activities.
She is a member of the Chicago Police Department’s Fifth District Explorers Group, which already has taken a group of children and teens to horseback-riding lessons.
Jonathan Wilson, 28, grew up in Roseland, but now lives in South Shore. He said he appreciates what the police are trying to do, but the responsibility needs to be evenly distributed. It’s important for parents to become stricter with their children, he said.
Wilson said the event was both inspiring and informative.
“I’m for the youth because I have a younger brother,” Wilson said. “I have nieces and nephews, and I don’t want them to get caught up in this life that’s in Chicago because it only ends in one or two ways. I want to see them grow up and be successful.”
Vanessa Westley is the coordinator for Bridging the Divide, a campaign the Police Department started to bring young people and the community together. Conversations like the one Tuesday are important to have, she said.
“The whole idea of being a young person is that you make mistakes and you grow," she said. "Unfortunately, some of the mistakes that our young people are making are not to their growth, it’s to their detriment because they don’t have a community to help say, ‘OK, that was a mistake, let me help you up.’
“The idea of this collaborative is that we empower the community to be able to hold the hands of the young people who are in crisis, in trouble, so they won’t fall through the cracks. The systems can’t do it.”
The Roseland Community World Café is sponsored by the Chicago Alternatives to Incarceration Collaborative. The Chicago ATI Collaborative is a partnership between The United Methodist Church; Community Justice for Youth Institute (CYJI); CPS; the Police Department, and Chicago Mayor’s Commission for a Safer Chicago to develop community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.