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Activists to Gov: ‘Do the right thing,’ provide summer job money

Jawanza Malone (center) is among those pushing for a community benefits agreement with the Obama Presidential Center. | Sun-Times file photo

Community activists gathered at the Cook County Jail on Thursday to call for Gov. Bruce Rauner to fund summer job programs to help keep low-income youths from winding up behind bars — or worse.

“This is not about politics! This is about life or death!” chanted Parrish Brown, a Kenwood Oakland community organization youth leader. The rally took place in response to the recent spike in violence.

“We face shootouts on a daily basis,” said LaFrance Lucas, a youth leader at Westside Health Authority. “Being paranoid and being scared for our lives … seeing destruction every day on the streets is the norm for us. We want to change the norm so that we can live. These summer jobs help us stay out of the way of trouble. With these programs we are trying to better ourselves.”

“This is not about politics! This is about life or death!” chanted Parrish Brown, a Kenwood Oakland community organization youth leader. |Virginia Barreda/For the Sun-Times

“This is not about politics! This is about life or death!” chanted Parrish Brown, a Kenwood Oakland community organization youth leader. |Virginia Barreda/For the Sun-Times

About 1,800 shootings and more than 300 homicides have been recorded in Chicago this year.

The community groups want Rauner to allocate $30 million through the Community Youth Employment Act, which would pay for about 10,000 youth jobs this summer, according to Jawanza Malone of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

“We are here to encourage [Rauner] to do the right thing,” Malone said. “The state is going to pay one way or the other. We’re going to pay to bury households, bury kids, or to lock up kids or give them the opportunity for a future.”

The program pays for jobs for youths between the ages of 14 and 21. They are paid minimum wage for working up to 20 hours a week for a 10-week period.

Malone says the money exists, it would take Rauner to release the funds.

The governor’s office said Rauner “shares the concerns over Chicago’s violence, which is why he has advocated for pro-growth reforms to create high-paying jobs and careers. Unfortunately, due to a decade of fiscal mismanagement at the hands of the Democratic majority, there is no money to pay for programs like these as they continue to block reforms to create jobs and grow the economy.”

Malone said the Legislature appropriated $7 million for youth jobs within a $3.09 billion spending package for funding social services and higher education in Illinois. The Senate Bill was vetoed earlier this month by Rauner, who called it an “empty promise.”

The Community Youth Employment Act was first approved in 2010 by Gov. Pat Quinn and funded from 2012 to 2014.

During that time, between 60 and 70 organizations provided youths with jobs statewide. Money was allocated to community organizations by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

On average, there are about 40,000 applicants for the jobs.

“Our young people have potential, promise and purpose . . . they were not born to be hustlers on streets of Chicago,” said the Rev. Samuel Paul of the Community Renewal Society. “It is time for communities to organize to fight for justice and change.”

LeFrance Lucas, youth leader at the Westside Health Authority said summer jobs help him and his friends stay out of trouble. |Virginia Barreda/For the Sun-Times

LeFrance Lucas, youth leader at the Westside Health Authority said summer jobs help him and his friends stay out of trouble. |Virginia Barreda/For the Sun-Times