Chicago Ideas: Community unity and repairing police relations

 Community activist and mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green discusses youth impact with CYC teens.

Community activist and mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green discusses youth impact with CYC teens.

Repairing community and police relationships aren’t easy topics. But that’s exactly what a group of teens from CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center ignited a conversation about last month.

In August, the Center hosted a Chicago Ideas Day, a youth-led event that was an opportunity for the teens to engage in social awareness, use their voice for the overall welfare of their community, and interview local changemakers.

The teens worked for eight weeks to develop a social awareness program that focused on police relationships and community unity.

They tackled this through a community event coupled with an action event. The day was inspired by Chicago Ideas, a movement built on sharing ideas to transform the world.

Center Director Clarence Hogan said the teens picked the topic of community unity and police relations because they are concerned about what is happening in their community.

 Chicago Police Officer Reginald Murray talks with CYC about repairing

Chicago Police Officer Reginald Murray talks with CYC about repairing

“They can notice some serious injustices and some things that don’t seem to be going on in other communities,” he said. “I think that they can be culture shocked by traveling to different neighborhoods.”

For the community conversation, the youth invited Chicago Police Officer Reginald Murray to talk about repairing relationships between the police and the community. Community activist and mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green was also present. He discussed community engagement and youth impact.

“I learned about the Black Lives Matter movement and how young people are involved in government and politics,” said Nateena, 16.

After the stimulating conversation, the youth participated in an action event by collaborating with Play Streets, which is an initiative that encourages healthier and stronger communities by creating safe and accessible residential play areas for kids to be active and to learn.

Next month, Chicago Ideas Week will be held Oct. 15-21. Hundreds of events across the city will push attendees to reconsider the limits of possibility. CYC teens will be attending several events to listen to speakers discuss the justice system and to also attend hands-on labs.

Developing 'Friendship Girl'

 “friendship girl,” the character created by the students on the video game platform bloxels.

“friendship girl,” the character created by the students on the video game platform bloxels.

What does representation mean to you? For a group of girls at CYC-Rebecca K. Crown Youth Center, it meant finding a creative solution to ensure that the video game they were working on had a character that looked like them.

This summer at CYC-Rebecca K. Crown Youth Center, a group of 9-12 year old girls designed a video game that prevents cyberbullying.

The game focused on how to identify what a cyber-bully is, how to speak up, and how to make appropriate choices. To play the game, the youth designed a character on the Bloxels platform: “Friendship Girl.”

While they originally used the provided kit to create the character, they were dismayed because they couldn’t get their character to look like them: African-American.

After creating the initial character for their game, the group investigated how they could give their character brown skin, something that Devin Swift-Bailey, the Maker Lab specialist at the Center, did not believe was possible.

 a character created by the students that was modeled after one of the girl’s mothers.

a character created by the students that was modeled after one of the girl’s mothers.

 To his surprise, the group tinkered with the program and figured out how to create their dream character in the app itself.

“The big takeaway was that they were able to create a character that represents them,” Devin said. “They took away an interest in coding, a newfound way to be creative.”

In addition to gaining technology skills through this program, the girls displayed determination, creativity, and empathy as they worked together to find a solution to the issue at hand. India, one of the girls in the group, said she enjoyed the collaboration that went into the project.

“What I enjoyed the most about the program is that I liked that we have to work together,” said the 10-year-old.

Devin said this program was a great opportunity for the children to explore other STEM fields.

“I think the importance of this program is that a lot of kids think that the only STEM-related careers are being engineers, etc.,” he said. “Animation, gaming, and graphic design are STEM careers. It exposes them to other types of careers, and develops passions and interests.”

While this program just got the girls’ feet in the door of coding, we’re excited to see what they will do in the continuation of this program this year!

CYC Young Entrepreneurs take on board rooms

It’s not often that a teenager gets the opportunity to present a legitimate business proposal in a board room to a non-profit organization, but that’s the exact situation two CYC teens achieved a few weeks ago.

 Janese, a CYC-Fellowship House teen, explains various design options to the executives at Chicago Cares.

Janese, a CYC-Fellowship House teen, explains various design options to the executives at Chicago Cares.

CYC recently developed a partnership with Chicago Cares, a volunteer mobilization organization. A new club, CYC Young Entrepreneurs, comprised of eight select teens across our Centers are developing a business plan to design, market, and sell 1,250-1,500 official event T-shirts during Chicago Cares’ 25th Serve-a-Thon event in mid-June.

This collaboration has pushed the involved teens to think critically about design, get quotes from vendors, sort out the logistics behind prices, sizes, and quality, while working on their public speaking skills as they pitch their “business” to the organization.

The teens are working with staff and professional mentors. The skills they are developing include understanding the power of collaborative work, the ideation procession, how to research, and how to negotiate.

"I learned that to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to have an idea and believe in it, but you also have to take feedback and persevere to improve it,” said Janese, a teen at CYC-Fellowship House. “It’s also important to have fun and believe in yourself, no matter what."

 Sean, a CYC-Elliott Donnelley Youth Center teen, walks the executives at Chicago Cares through the business plan the CYC Young Entrepreneurs had developed.

Sean, a CYC-Elliott Donnelley Youth Center teen, walks the executives at Chicago Cares through the business plan the CYC Young Entrepreneurs had developed.

CYC Chief Operating Officer Scott Merrow said CYC is extremely fortunate that Chicago Cares agreed to partner on this pilot program.

“These are hands-on real life 21st century business skills that are laying the foundation for CYC kids’ future professional endeavors,” Scott said. “These are the kids Chicago companies are going to want to hire because of programs like this.”

Jenné Myers, the CEO of Chicago Cares, said the organization is excited to be the first client for CYC’s new venture to design T-shirts for the 25th annual Serve-a-thon.

 “Our mission is to build a stronger, more unified Chicago through volunteerism, and we can live those values by investing in the great potential and promise of our city’s talented young people,” Jenné said. “The process has been a fun learning experience for all of us, and we can’t wait to see the final t-shirts.”

 The Chicago Cares executives and CYC staff and teens posed for a photo after the business meeting.

The Chicago Cares executives and CYC staff and teens posed for a photo after the business meeting.

Cultivating peace in South Shore

 CYC youth worker Devin Swift-Bailey poses with a child and his interpretation of peace: the sign language phrase for "I love you."

CYC youth worker Devin Swift-Bailey poses with a child and his interpretation of peace: the sign language phrase for "I love you."

At CYC-Crown, teens, children, and community residents have a united mission: a peaceful summer.

On April 14, nearly 70 people gathered at our Center in South Shore for the South Shore Teen Summit.

CYC youth and teens, participants from Lost Boyz, the Chicago Police Department, and the NAACP all gathered to participate in meaningful conversations and learn to de-escalate violence. Andra Medea, who developed CHILL, a program that teaches youth to recognize the biological effects of anger and confrontation and develop techniques to de-escalate conflicts, was also present. CHILL has been a part of the CYC curriculum for about a year, and Devin said he has seen positive results.

 Teens and community members participated in peace circles intended to spur community conversations.

Teens and community members participated in peace circles intended to spur community conversations.

In addition to a presentation on how to de-escalate aggressive situations before they turn violent, Devin said they wanted to focus on how teens should interact with law enforcement to achieve peaceful and mutually respectful solutions.

Devin said when organizing the event, he reached out to the Chicago Police Department to facilitate peace circles inspired by their Bridging the Divide collaboration with the YMCA of Metro Chicago. During the peace circles, the police offered answers and posed questions and pushed for open conversations.

“It was a way for the police department to connect with the community, so when summer hits, we’re not just running when we see the police,” Devin said. “We want everybody to have a better outlook. If we know who is around us, then we have better relationships.”

The NAACP also took time to discuss restorative justice practices.

CYC youth also worked on a peace mural. The mural will be a collage of different interpretations of peace.

“With the peace mural, we hope to use our individual interpretations of peace to show what is important to our community,” said Monica Wizgird, the CYC Arts & Innovation Coordinator.