Common, Rhymefest team with Urban League to create jobs for youths

Written By BY MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA Staff Reporter Posted: 04/09/2014, 08:56pm
Array The crowd gathered to hear Common, and the Common Ground Foundation, Andrea L. Zopp, President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, and Kanye West's Donda's House Foundation Creative Director, Che 'Rhymefest' Smith announce their joint youth jobs initiative on Tuesday, April 9, 2014. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

What led to the unlikely pairing of the Chicago Urban League and two hip-hop artists?

Jobs.

In the wake of a January report on the dismal jobs landscape for young black males in Chicago — 92 percent are jobless — the League on Wednesday teamed with actor/rapper Common and songwriter Che “Rhymefest” Smith in an effort to create 1,000 year-round jobs. Che Smith

The partnership, which will include a music festival fundraiser this summer, was spawned by feedback from teens at the end of annual summer job programs such as One Summer Chicago, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Wednesday would offer 22,000 youth jobs this summer.

“Every year, we hold a hearing where young people in the summer jobs programs come and talk about the impact the jobs had on their lives. But this year, it highlighted another issue we just haven’t focused on,” said Andrea Zopp, president and and CEO of the Urban League.

“And that was that their need for a job doesn’t end in September. They have needs to support their families, take care of themselves. They want to work year-round. So in our community, we have to focus on that topic,” Zopp said.

According to the study, in 2012, 17 percent of black males ages 16 to 19 nationwide held jobs. That ratio was 12 percent in Illinois; and just 8 percent in Chicago.

“Ninety-five percent of the brothers I deal with every day on the streets wants the same thing every kid on the North Side and on the North Shore wants,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who attended the announcement Wednesday of the partnership promoting the new Chicago Youth Job Collaborative at the Museum of Contemporary Art. “Until we offer them options, the violence is our fault, because we’ve failed them.”

The collaborative, which includes five other stalwart Chicago nonprofits, will work with the public and private sector to secure year-round jobs for those 16 to 24. Launching with 1,000 jobs this September, it hopes to add jobs yearly for the next four years, to impact 15,000 youths within five years.

An annual music festival will help raise money for the jobs effort and youth programs such as those supported by Common’s Common Ground Foundation, and by rapper Kanye West’s charity, Donda’s House, run by Rhymefest and his wife.

“Any time I hear of innocent people getting shot and killed and young people with guns, it hurts. I felt I have to do more than just write songs about Chicago,” said Common, a k a Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.

“Obviously, one of the biggest reasons our kids are going through what they’re going through is because of poverty. I was doing an event in the neighborhood and there were some kids from Englewood and I said, ‘Man, what do y’all really need? What’s gonna stop this?’ And they were like, ‘We need money. Man, if we could work.’ They want a chance.”

The inaugural AAHH! Fest fundraiser will be held Sept. 20-21 at 6300 S. Hayes Dr., featuring big-name acts and Chicago youths performing and employed behind the scenes, said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who has been involved in its planning for the last year.

mihejirika@suntimes.com

Twitter: @Maudlynei

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