Youth in Chicago's Roseland Community Rally For Jobs

As they stood in front of a memorial dedicated to fallen youth, teens in Chicago's troubled Roseland community gave a chilling ultimatum: "No Jobs! No Peace!" 

On Friday afternoon, Kids Off The Block--a youth organization led by activist Diane Latiker-- held a rally across the street from its headquarters at 116th and Michigan. For them, a major cause of neighborhood violence is the lack of economic opportunities. Despite the presence of a small shopping district just a half-mile to the north, the stores can't provide enough jobs for residents and residents don't have income to support those same businesses. 

Mrs. Latiker, a former hairdresser and mother of eight, spoke to the youth in attendance about how the violence and poverty keeps her up at night. She told them that she is tired of hearing about Roseland's reputation when she travels to different cities in the U.S., as well as internationally. But the neighborhood surrogate mother reminded the young people that they must have the same desire for excellence that she has for them.

"I'm [asking] for young people who want to do something with their life, who want to be successful," Latiker exclaimed. "If you want to do something with your life, you're in the right place." 

One of those places is the Kids Off The Block headquarters. It is just two doors down from Latiker's home where she founded the organization in 2003. According to a recent interview with The Examiner's Wendell Hutson, she has gone to great lengths to supply the center with her own funds after government grants and private donations have been exhausted. As temperatures heat up and young people walk the streets in boredom, "Momma D" knows that jobs and summer programs are the only things that can keep kids out of trouble. 

Yet, there are still young people who feel inspired by Latiker's work. One of them is Jamie Norris, who plans to attend Chicago State University in the fall. She is holding out hope that the jobs will come soon. And other members, as well as visitors, of Kids Off The Block who are still in high school are doing just the same by preparing now for the future. 

Rising senior Julius Modelist wants to be a police officer.  He is currently enrolled in the Chicago Police and Firefighter Training Academy (CPFTA). But he and his friend, Kiwaun Radcliffe--who will be a sophomore in the fall-- admit that  some teachers in the Chicago Public School system are not always the most helpful in guiding them on a path to careers. 

"They don't really do anything to help us. Most teachers will just throw an assignment on our desk and tell us to turn it in by Monday," Radcliffe confessed.  

However, Modelist believes that the problem is bigger than the school system. "People have been constantly saying that we need government aid and what not, but all these years have been passing and government aid hasn't been doing too much to help a community," the teen said. "The people themselves have to find a way to work things out and make it better." 

~ Zack A. Isaacs



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