Evanston officials, residents discuss solutions to violence in aftermath of Dajae Coleman's death
October 3, 2012
Youth vocational training opportunities and a new teen center at Evanston Township High School were among the anti-violence initiatives Evanston residents proposed during Tuesday night's community meeting, where more than 150 people filled the hall and the indoor basketball court of Fleetwood-Jourdain Center.
Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl called for the meeting at 1655 Foster St., in a Friday letter to Evanston residents, in response to the recent death of ETHS freshman Dajae Coleman. Coleman was shot Sept. 22 while walking home from a party on Church Street.
"The question is, what is each one of us in the room going to do?" Tisdahl said at the meeting. "Our kids are watching."
The meeting began with an invocation for Coleman. City officials then gave an overview of the city's existing youth outreach programs, including the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program and initiatives from the city's new Youth and Young Adult Division.
Curbing street violence requires long-term commitment from the Evanston community to reach out to its youth, said Ald. Delores Holmes (5th).
"This really is a long marathon," Holmes said. "We want to see you again and again as we work on issues confronting our youth here. It takes everyone to make this work."
Participants then broke up into small groups to discuss solutions to street violence.
The city needs to open public buildings as safe places for youth, especially on weekends, said Andre Patrick, vice president of the Evanston Pride Feeder Basketball program in which Coleman once participated.
"We have to make some of these community buildings available to them ... so that we can monitor the way they are enjoying themselves on a Friday or Saturday evening," Patrick said. "Our kids looking for enjoyment at a house party in Evanston is not a good move."
ETHS sophomore Kiley Leff echoed Patrick's idea when she proposed opening a teen center at the high school, where youth can hang out and take classes.
"We want a place where kids feel comfortable going and safe, a home away from home," she said. "It's a safe solution to having nowhere to go on a Friday night."
Evanston resident Stephen Adams, who lives in the 5th Ward with his 7-year-old son, said there are fewer Evanston outreach programs for at-risk kids today compared to the days of his youth.
"With budget cuts and everything a lot of those programs got cut," Adams said. "That's when you start to see more kids getting into trouble because they basically had nothing to do to keep them busy."
Another theme running throughout the discussion was the need to listen to young people. ETHS teacher Sharon Weeks said adults need to actively involve youth in planning outreach programs.
"We need to show our young people ... that we are not just the ones planning the programs for them, but we have a space for them at the table, where they can sit down and say, 'this is what I want,'" she said, earning resounding applause from attendees. Weeks added young people from every background should be heard.
The Evanston City Council will create an action plan based on ideas suggested at the meeting, Tisdahl told The Daily on Tuesday, adding that she will meet with Northwestern officials this week to discuss how the the city and University can collaborate on future anti-violence plans.
Leff said she found the meeting effective, but hoped more youth would attend.
"It would probably be more beneficial if we had more teens," she said.