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Youth to Rally for Summer Jobs

The number of jobs for youth provided by the city’s summer jobs program has dropped from 40,000 in 1984 to under 11,000 last year, according to research by the youth group of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

Young people from KOCO will join teenagers from across the city for a Citywide Youth Employment Rally on Wednesday, August 9 at 6 p.m. at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone.

They’re pushing for state legislation to increase funding for summer jobs and calling on the Illinois Department of Human Services to allocate more from its budget for youth employment.

Last year a youth-led organizing drive won 1,000 additional summer jobs from the city, and a citywide rally attracted nearly 500 teenagers, said Jonathan Projansky of KOCO.

Lack of positive opportunities increases a range of risks for young people, from drugs and gang activity to pregnancy, he said.

“Young people have the drive and ability to do serious things and to be taken seriously,” he said. “They’re looking for responsibility.”

“When I was young just about anyone who wanted a Mayor Daley Summer Job could get one,” he said, adding that low-income and at-risk youth are no longer prioritized for city-sponsored summer jobs.

“Often when teenagers are just doing their normal summer routine, the perception on the part of adults and particularly police is that they’re doing something wrong,” said Bryan Echols of the Woodlawn-based Metropolitan Area Group for Igniting Civilization. “It often leads to interactions with police that are not positive” and sometimes “creates very dangerous situations” both with police and with other youth.

MAGIC was founded by Social Science Administration students at the University of Chicago, including several Woodlawn natives, to provide programming for youth and organize residents there. This summer the group is employing 20 Woodlawn teenagers on a six-week mural project through the city’s After School Matters program, and several young organizers are working in MAGIC’s office.

“But there are thousands we can’t help, just in our neighborhood alone,” Echols said.

KOCO estimates there are 70,000 to 80,000 Chicago youth ages 14 to 17 who could benefit from summer employment.

The August 9 rally will feature young people speaking on what employment – or the lack of it – means for their summer, along with performances by local talent ranging from gospel to hip-hop.

Young people from across the city will attend, with participating organizations including Uptown-based Alternatives, Organization of the North East, Albany Park Neighborhood Association, Blocks Together, Bethel New Life, the Hip Hop Church, the Chinese American Service League, the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp, Southwest Youth Collaborative, and the far-south group Kids Off the Block.

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