It is summer in Chicago and we know what that means for our young Black people: trouble.
The news headlines about Black and Brown Chicago youth are almost exclusively negative. However, I argue that undesirable behavior isn’t because our youth are bad, but rather they are bored. Our community lacks the organized resources and programming to keep our young people energized and out of trouble. Thus, this is a desperate call to the adults in every community to create affordable summer programs for all youth.
What currently exists are activities and programs that are unaffordable for most, in addition to programs that are difficult to attend due to transportation, conflict with work hours and unwelcoming environments for young people of color. The failures of these programs leave young folks to make their own fun, their own trouble.
We can keep them safe during the summer, but how?
We have to fund our own programs.
Historically, community groups had to look internally for support. For example, the Black Panther Party, churches, and other organizations during the civil rights movement had to look inwardly to support their community and not depend on government or external funds. Their activities were funded by us, the adults in the community—grandmas, aunties, and neighbors organizing meals for anyone in the community who needed food and creating jobs and programs for our young people.
I believe we have become so dependent on gifts, charities and government funding for youth programming, that we forget our own power. We forget our own resourcefulness to take care of our young people ourselves.
Again this summer, my neighborhood, Proviso Township, in Chicago’s western suburbs, lacks outside money flooding into summer programming. So my suggestion is to do what we did back then, that is, to come together—adults, institutions, and churches and dig deep, open our doors, and share resources so that our young people will have quality programs this summer. I am confident that our own community has the necessary tools and resources to take care of our youth, ourselves. We can make sure that all of our kids are fed, all of our kids have someplace safe to go, and all of our kids can actively participate in something that is productive.
We have so many talented adults living in Chicago: designers, musicians, writers, singers, dancers, engineers, lawyers, doctors, scientists, politicians and so much more! All of us can do something to put our talents at work to serve our young people. Many believe that it takes so much more than it does to do something with young folks. I urge you to use your talents, gifts, and/or money to share with the young people in Chicagoland area this summer.
As for me and my contribution, I am piloting an Afrocentric Black School summer program this for kids in the neighborhood, meeting at my home. Already, a dozen young Black children are registered. We’ll be meeting for a few Saturdays starting later in July. I hope to continue this as an after-school program during the upcoming school year. While I don’t plan to take foundation or government money to pay for it, I hope it will attract interest from churches and local community members who want to help with a place to hold classes or support in other ways as we grow.
For now, I’m going to work some young folks in our community, even if I have to do it at my house, and if possible, with a budget under $100. This may mean having classes in the basement, backyard, and my kitchen table. It may not be the best program or even the school that I initially envisioned, but it something that I can do without external funding.
And, I’m not special.
All adults, all of us, can do something. My charge to every adult, every business, every organization in Chicago: prioritize our young people this summer. Let’s get as many summer programs and activities available as we can, so there will be no reason for them to get bored, and then get in trouble.
Historically, we have always taken care of our own communities. We don’t need grants from the government or money from foundations to provide opportunities for our young people. We just have to be committed to doing something. After all, it still takes a village to raise our children and it’s the challenge of Chicago to offer opportunities for every kid this summer.
Chicagoans, especially Black Chicagoans, I believe in us to save us.
ShaRhonda Crystal Knott Dawson writes on about politics, education, current events, and social justice on her blog, ShaRhonda Tribune.