(This is an excerpt from a blog post by Arielle Maldonado, leader and founder of the Healing Corners in the Humboldt Park area and neighborhoods on the West Side of Chicago.)
As a community, we need to focus our energy on the legislative damage being perpetrated against us stemming from the whims of politicians and their governmental policies. Issues such as the Illinois state budget stalemate has forced countless social service agencies to downsize or shut their doors and serves as an excuse for further neglect of funding our public schools. Chicago has already suffered the biggest U.S. mass school closure of 54 schools in primarily low-income black and Latino areas in 2013. In 2012, the city closed 6 of the 12 Mental Health Centers in the same areas. With a governor who invests in private prisons, it’s not hard to connect the dots to where they expect the most vulnerable youth and young adults to end up.
Many people dismiss these young men and boys on the West and South sides as thugs or scum who should be locked up without even hearing their story. Now more than ever, communities themselves need to lead the push for an agenda that’s powered by the people’s voice and needs. We can use political action and organization to change these young men’s perception and show them a different life is possible! Let’s involve the young men on our corners and ask them, “What do YOU need to get off that corner?” Are any politicians meeting them at the corner and asking them that? With political elections coming up – we need to hold our elected officials responsible. They need to be accountable to us and we need to empower our people to know the power of their vote! We need to ensure that our aldermen are speaking and acting for us. Our elected officials should not be allowed to funnel public TIF money that is designed to help our communities into tourist projects like Navy Pier or into De Paul University’s new stadium. Communities are left scraping for crumbs while they lack the basic essentials that will allow them to build a better future for themselves and for generations that will come after them.
Just as Colonials divided and conquered African countries, exploiting minerals in the Congo for First World use, there is a land grab under way on the West and South sides of Chicago. Gentrification is growing at an exponential rate, while at the same time these boys are being locked up and/or killed. Time and time again our public services are being privatized for profit. Traditional public schools are doing more with less and obtain higher growth rates with their students because of the quality of teachers. We shouldn’t be seduced by charter schools. Our children’s education should not be for profit.
Now more than ever, it is critical to our survival that we get organized, that we advocate and vote for what we want, need, and believe in. Everyone has an important part to play to ensure the survival and success of our communities.