While politicians push tougher law enforcement to address youth violence, community leaders and youth in Bronzeville are demanding that the root causes of violence — including unemployment, disinvestment, and school closings — be put at the top of the agenda.
At 4 p.m. on Thursday, February
12 14, youth leaders from five high schools — including King College Prep, where Hadiya Pendleton was a student, and where one of the suspects in her murder graduated – will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. at Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st Street. They’re part of Leaders Investing For Equality (LIFE), which for several years has pushed for restoration of funding cut from youth employment programs.
At 6 p.m. on Thursday, the Bronzeville Alliance  and Centers for New Horizons  will hold a press conference at the Ellis Childcare Center, 4301 S. Cottage, to launch a community initiative to coordinate social services for community youth and families and to advocate for a reversal of cutbacks they say have destabilized the community.
In media coverage of youth violence, “there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of the root causes of these problems and the responsiblity of government and the private sector for years of disinvestment in minority communities,” said John Owens of CNH.
“We’ve had many years of jobs being lost and cutbacks in a whole range of social services – and the whole idea of closing schools is just another form of cutbacks,” he said.
“There’s been no discussion of youth employment, no discussion of the destabilization of families when jobs are lost and parents are working odd hours, no discussion of afterschool programs that are relevant,” Owens said. “The bottom line is that we need to understand what it means to build community and we need to start building it – with the kind of resources that are needed for a community in crisis.”
Owen said CNH and other Bronzeville agencies are trying to provide developmental social services, “but everybody is barely keeping their doors open. There are not enough of us and we are not funded anywhere near what would be adequate to reach the number of youth and families out there who are in need.”
The new coalition, dubbed SAVE (Stop Armed Violence Everywhere), is calling on the city and state to work with residents to restore employment, educational, mental health and recreational resources in Bronzeville. They are demanding meetings with Governor Quinn and Mayor Emanuel.
The coalition includes local schools, social service agencies, community groups, and business and veterans groups, Owens said.
The Bronzeville Alliance issued a call to the media “to avoid body-count journalism and drive-by reporting that criminalizes our community and tends to look at this very complex problem in narrow, counter-productive terms.”
It calls for an approach that is “pro-active, holistic, and sustainable.”
Youth leaders from LIFE will highlight public school closings, reduced funding for summer youth employment and limited recreational opportunities as”catalysts of community destabilization,” according to a statement from Shannon Bennett of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization , which backs LIFE.
“Policy decisions made without consultation with the people directly impacted have led to destabilization of communities and increased violence in neighborhoods, particularly communities of color,” according to the statement.
“Summer youth employment was decimated over the last 20 years, and only one-third of the youth who apply each year for summer jobs find work. There is very little teen-specific programming in communities around Chicago serving out-of-school and severely at-risk youth.
“School actions implemented by the Chicago Board of Education have led to the creation of new youth gangs and the 300 percent increase in homicides in north Kenwood-Oakland.”