The first thing Andre Partee’s Los Angeles cabdriver asked about in late July was the violence in Chicago.
Andre and classmates Amiya Mahone and Jaquan Wade were familiar with the stereotype. The trio visited California to receive an award for the peacekeeping rally they organized in West Humboldt Park.
After months of “word of mouth” and social media campaigns, Amiya said their self-designed project culminated in a peace rally in early June.
The Entertainment Industry Foundation’s “Think It Up” innovation award comes with a $5,000 grant for future Polaris Charter Academy eighth-graders to continue the work started by this year’s students and teachers.
“For ‘Think it Up’ to trust kids with money for a student-led project — it was an amazing opportunity,” said Amiya, who, along with the other students, will be starting ninth grade.
Andre, Amiya and Jaquan created their school project to tackle gun violence and racial stereotypes in their Chicago neighborhood.
The national recognition and grant money came later when one of their teachers applied, said Michelle Navarre, co-founder of Polaris.
Polaris Charter Academy, 620 N. Sawyer, is a member of the Expeditionary Learning Education Network of schools. Seventh- and eighth-grade students do “field work” projects with a social justice theme, Navarre explained.
Seventh-graders work with teachers and experts to create podcasts promoting social justice, Navarre said.
Andre said his seventh-grade class created a podcast to dissect racial stereotypes and examine ways to fight them.
Amiya said she asked experts, “How do we effect change?”
The most common piece of advice? “Go out in the community and get involved,” she said.
Eighth-graders work in groups to expand on what they did as seventh-graders, Navarre said.
This past year, most of the class worked with community and law enforcement organizations to create stronger ties between youth and police, Andre said.
But Amiya, Andre and Jaquan worked with experts, public relations professionals and law enforcement to promote their “Peacekeepers Rally for a Day of Peace” in Kells Park, 3201 W. Chicago Ave.
“Our main goal was to create a day of peace and build better relations with police officers,” Andre said. More than 200 people turned out.
It was nice to “get to know the kids in the neighborhood,” he said. “We don’t really get to see them.”
Amiya said the “Day of Play,” filled with speakers and community involvement, let the kids in the neighborhood “just feel safe.”
She hopes the project will expand to other neighborhoods. “There’s going to be hiccups along the way, but you have to learn from them,” she said. “Peace is a process.”