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.

The teens at CYC-Sidney Epstein Youth Center wrapped up the summer with a forum that reflected what they’re concerned about in their neighborhood: repairing community and police relationships.

The event was part of Chicago Ideas, a movement built on sharing ideas to transform the world. During the Chicago Ideas Day held at the Center on Aug. 17, 2018, space was provided for youth to be engaged in social awareness and to find their voice. 

The teens worked for about eight weeks to develop a social awareness program that focused on police relationships and community unity, through a community conversation and an action event.

 Chicago Police Officer Reginald Murray talks with CYC about repairing

Chicago Police Officer Reginald Murray talks with CYC about repairing

For the community conversation, the youth brought in Chicago Police Officer Reginald Murray to talk about repairing relationships between the police and the community. Community activist and mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green discussed community engagement and youth impact. All of the questions discussed were developed by the teens.

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.

“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.”

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

In October, the teens will be participating in Chicago Ideas Week, where they will listen to speakers talk about the justice system and 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.

At CYC, children are not only learning how to be a good community member, they are also learning about digital citizenship.

This summer at CYC-Rebecca K. Crown Youth Center, a group of 9-12 year old girls used Bloxels, a video game platform, to create a game against cyber bullying.

The game focused on how to identify what a cyber-bully is, how to speak up, and how to make appropriate choices.

To participate, the youth designed a character on the platform: “Friendship Girl.”

While they originally used the Bloxels school 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.

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

 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.

“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.”

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. “I believe that 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 their feet in the door of coding, we’re excited to see what they will do in the continuation of this program this year!

When in doubt, slime it out

When four girls arrived for CYC’s summer day camp programming at CYC-Fellowship House, they immediately noticed something important missing: slime time.

 A CYC student plays with her new creation during Slime Club.

A CYC student plays with her new creation during Slime Club.

Marissa, Leah, Leilani, and Cheeky decided to bring in the kind of programming they wanted to see. They reached out to CYC Arts and Innovation Coordinator Monica Wizgird to develop five lesson plans. They then pitched their idea, got it approved, and created a supply list for all the materials they needed.

Their ultimate mission? To teach 10 CYC kids how to create five unique types of slime: fluffy slime, fishbowl slime, butter slime, sponge slime, and cloud slime.

 The Slime Club leaders prep before a class.

The Slime Club leaders prep before a class.

To do this, the girls needed to explore what it meant to be a teacher.

“We had to learn how to go at the younger kids’ pace,” said Marissa, 12. “It was a new experience, I did enjoy teaching.”

11-year-old Cheeky, who has been attending CYC since she was 4, said she was inspired by seeing how “Ms. Monica” leads her classes. She said she enjoyed taking charge and helping the kids learn how to work on their projects.

“I always see Ms. Monica do stuff like that during classes and encouraging me to do stuff like that,” said Cheeky, who wants to become a teacher or artist when she grows up.

Monica said she was impressed by the creativity, tenacity, and professionalism of these four young women.

“They had a vision to create their own club and with just a little guidance and support, they made it happen,” she said. “All of the participants in the club were so impressed and inspired by their peers.”

The girls also made sure to include the science behind how slime is created, such as the chemical reactions between borax and glue, in each of the lessons.

“It’s not only about getting messy and having fun, it’s also about chemistry and making things,” Cheeky said.

With the one-on-one time youth get with our staff members, CYC kids feel empowered to take charge of their education. This allows them to not only develop their leadership skills but it sharpens their understanding of the topic at hand because of the ownership they take.

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 “Being a leader made me feel good about myself,” said Marissa. “It made me feel capable, it made me feel like I could run a group.”

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.

The process of invention: Learning grit and creativity

 Victoria and Amara, CYC-Fellowship students, pose in front of their presentation at the Chicago Student Invention Convention.

Victoria and Amara, CYC-Fellowship students, pose in front of their presentation at the Chicago Student Invention Convention.

When Victoria, 11, grows up, she wants to be either an engineer or an inventor. So, when CYC staff members asked her to be a part of the Chicago Student Invention Convention and invent a new product, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I liked the idea of inventing stuff,” she said.

Victoria, a student who attends CYC-Fellowship House in Bridgeport, was one of nine CYC students who participated in the Chicago Student Invention Convention on April 7. Several students were interviewed by ABC 7 to explain what they thought of the event. 

This was an exciting endeavor for the children at our Centers as they were not only challenged to explore innovative solutions to problems they identify, they were also required to create a prototype and plan to present to a panel of judges at the event. The students competed against hundreds of other Chicago children.

“Ultimately, the project required us to work hard, push through and give our best!” said Steven Willis, the CYC STEM Manager. “The reward was seeing our youth participants glowing with pride and excitement as they presented their inventions at the convention. Because just like us, they gave their best.”

The process was just as you might expect for any inventor: full of trial and error.

 Amara works on a prototype of the double-sided lotion invention.

Amara works on a prototype of the double-sided lotion invention.

Victoria worked with another Fellowship House student, Amara, to create their invention of a double-sided lotion bottle. But before they had their final version, the duo had a few frustrations to sort out.

Their inspiration came from seeing a CYC staff member struggle with a bottle of nearly-empty lotion.

“We found out people have a hard time getting their lotion out of the bottle,” said Amara, 9.

So first, the two tried making a “lotion scooper.” But that didn’t work out so well, and neither did their next step, a “push pop lotion” that could be twisted. 

“Before we came up with our double-sided lotion bottle, we were kind of discouraged,” Victoria said.

However, the girls found success with a prototype that opens on both ends to get the most use of the lotion product inside.

“Although you could be discouraged, you keep on trying. We ended up having that problem, but we fixed it with more ideas and thinking,” said Victoria.

Other CYC projects included:

  • Glow in the dark shoelaces to keep pedestrians safe from vehicles and each other.
  • The concept of a hover car carrier that would easily transport vehicles from one state to another.
  • “Purpose Pack:” A battery powered tech bag that charges electronic devices and has its own Internet hotspot.
  • “F.L.E.X (Futuristic Lithium Electric Xperience):” A battery powered car that compacts for portability.

Generous funding from organizations like the Polk Bros. Foundation, Rivers Casino, ArcelorMittal, Motorola Solutions Fund,Zakat Foundation, and Peoples Gas gave our staff the flexibility to purchase materials to build prototypes of the students’ concepts. Thank you to our supporters for helping us create safe spaces that allow our kids to keep tinkering, experimenting, and finding solutions to their daily problems. You are equipping tomorrow’s leaders with the grit and creativity needed to succeed in the workplace.

 CYC students and staff stand with the inventions and presentations they brought to the chicago student invention convention.

CYC students and staff stand with the inventions and presentations they brought to the chicago student invention convention.