No need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to youth summer jobs programs

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “Summer of Change” youth programs shortchanges youth who have stayed out of trouble

SHARE No need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to youth summer jobs programs
Mayor Lori Lightfoot greets a resident at Julian High School.

Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times

My first job was babysitting for a Jewish family who lived in Prairie Shores, an apartment complex that was walking distance from CHA’s Clarence Darrow Homes.

I was 14-years-old.

I got the job because my father worked at a company owned by my employer’s father. I worked five days a week, starting about mid-morning until early evening. I don’t know whose idea it was, but I didn’t get paid a penny until the end of the summer.

I don’t remember how much I was paid, but it was enough to pay for clothes to start my freshman year in high school, sparing my struggling parents one more burdensome expense.

After that, I was financially on my own.

That first job led to weekend babysitting jobs, a cashiering job in a record store, an after-school job at a local spice factory and finally a job as a key-punch operator at the famed Spiegel warehouse — all before I got my high school diploma.

I learned early in life that as the African proverb says: “No work. No eat.”

But for too many of the city’s black and brown youth living in marginalized communities, that first opportunity is simply not there.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel leaned heavily on the business community to provide this vital coming-of-age opportunity through the “One Summer Chicago” program.

That program has provided more than 31,000 jobs and internships to Chicago youth over Emanuel’s tenure.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is taking a different approach.

On Wednesday, the mayor unveiled the “Summer for Change” program that targets at-risk teens attending the city’s so-called “option” schools.

The program will serve 400 students at a cost of $1.4 million, to be split between the city, CPS and private donations.

These are teens that have not been successful in regular high schools. Some of them have either been “exposed” to violence or have “perpetrated “violence” against others.

The program is an add-on to the city’s existing youth jobs program. The big difference is these 400 teens will be paid a $200 weekly stipend, for a total of $1,200 for the summer for participating in a program designed to keep them out of trouble.

While I understand the empathy reflected in this approach, I’m uncomfortable with the message it sends to the thousands of teens who have followed the rules and avoided the pitfalls that lead to violence.

What message are we sending them?

That they have to get in trouble before they can get a hand up?

Obviously, providing a stipend for 400 teens isn’t going to fix the violence problem.

In fact, I would argue that not requiring teens to actually earn their paychecks would make it more difficult for them to develop the work ethic they will need to escape the negative influences in their own neighborhoods.

People don’t get paid for seeking therapy, or for performing community service projects, or playing sports or having fun.

People get paid for showing up and doing work.

LaVont’e Stewart, founder of Lost Boyz Inc., calls this new program “shortsighted.”

“What we really need to do is take a step back. We need a serious comprehensive approach to the issue. We’ve got to stop sticking Band-Aids on the wounds that need stitches,” he said.

Lost Boyz Inc. is a not-for-profit organization serving youth in the South Shore community. Besides providing organized sports, the organization exposes young people to cultural activities designed to take them out of their neighborhoods and into the broader city.

Stewart has been recognized nationally for his efforts to keep kids safe.

“We need to bring the leaders together on a community level as well as on a political level and let’s really develop a comprehensive strategy to address this violence. For whatever reason we cannot seem to come together and come up with a strategy. We know the root causes. We actually have workable solutions, but the problem is we are implementing them in silos and that is limiting their effectiveness,” he said.

I see this new youth program as being “implemented” in one of those silos.

After all, a recent analysis of 2017 data shows an astounding 45% of black men between the ages of 20 and 24 didn’t have a job and weren’t in school.

Where’s the plan to address that?

When it comes to summer jobs for youth,

Lightfoot doesn’t have to start from scratch. She has to build on the foundation already laid.

The Latest
Shane Waldron has seen an improvement in Williams’ operation of the offense, from learning the verbiage to using cadence as a weapon.
According to two league sources, the Sky are considering Wintrust Sports Complex in Bedford Park as their new practice facility. The goal, according to one source, would be for the franchise to add to the existing building.
Alabama Shakes frontwoman and her tight backing band smoothly blend funk, rock, gospel, soul, R&B, jazz and dream pop.
After navigating around the massive VIP viewing tower, fans dance along to British DJ’s beats.