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Boys & Girls Club on new police academy campus offers youth a safe and welcoming space

Why would anyone oppose a wonderful new club filled with mentors and resources for our youth on the West Side?

The approximate location of a Chicago Police and Fire Academy to be built at 4301 W. Chicago Ave. in West Garfield Park.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

In recent years, I’ve painfully observed rising tensions between Black and Brown youth and the police — across Chicago, but particularly within West and South Side neighborhoods. This deterioration of trust is a sad and potentially explosive situation that has occurred over decades not just in our city, but across the nation. Unfortunately, it has recently grown worse with horrible ramifications.

Everyone discusses it; and everyone wants things to be different, better. But talking time is over. We need to act. Now is the moment for bravery and boldness — to create positive outcomes for brighter futures.

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Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago has been a trusted community partner providing support and services to young people throughout the city for nearly 120 years. Today, they propose to build a beautiful new club in West Garfield Park — the first in a generation — to provide a safe space for thousands of young people from this and nearby communities, including Austin and West Humboldt Park. BGCC has already raised over $6 million in private funds to build and operate this new club, with an intention to raise $2-4 million more.

Why would anyone oppose a wonderful new club filled with mentors and resources for youth on the West Side?

The proposed new BGCC club will be on the same West Garfield Park campus as the planned Joint Public Safety Training Academy — and, to me, that’s an amazing bonus. Two Black-owned businesses also will be part of this campus. And the club itself will be — first and foremost — a safe, secure place for the community.

Some people say that having first responders on the same campus as a BGCC club is a bad idea. I strongly disagree — and so do the many West Side residents, parents, educators, faith leaders and business owners who have been meeting for the past eight months and longer to support this project. Most importantly, so do the hundreds of youths who have participated in more than a dozen listening sessions to share their hopes for the new club site. Despite the very real trauma many have directly experienced or observed, they consistently express a strong desire for growth and healing, for making a difference. We must address their fears and mistrust in dynamic, meaningful and compassionate ways.

Let’s pursue this bold and unprecedented strategy to build bridges, strengthen our community and create new possibilities for our youth and our city. This new club represents a potentially transformational opportunity to bring together neighborhood youth with young first responder recruits to collaborate, listen and learn from each other.

We can’t accept the status quo. Things must improve for Black and Brown youth. Steady and positive change to expand understanding and interactions between our youth, their families and law enforcement is not just possible, but imperative. To achieve this change will require us to break down barriers that have prevented dialogue and understanding where it is so desperately needed, and to help chart a path forward for our city and its young people.

The proposed Boys & Girls club in West Garfield Park is a strong, promising start.

Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th Ward