Activists hold second protest about contracting choices for new Y.O.U. center


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

A protestor holds a sign asking “What about Us?” during a protest over Youth & Opportunity United contracting for construction of its new center at 1911 Church St. Organizers said the protest aimed to showcase community concern over lack of employment opportunities for local minority workers.

Robin Opsahl, City Editor

Evanston organizers protested Wednesday Youth & Opportunity United’s contracting choices for its new youth center across the street from Evanston Township High School.

The demonstration, held at the construction site at 1911 Church St., lasted from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. with more than 75 community members participating, organizer Lonnie Wilson said. He said the protesters aimed to show community concern over employment opportunities for local minority workers. Wilson said that although these problems are systemic, the action is focused on Y.O.U. because it works with minority youth in Evanston, but was not offering opportunities to the local minority community.

“The problem is that the communities that have been excluded need to be included,” Wilson said. “We talk about things like gun violence and drug use, and all of these problems can be attributed to economic exclusion. In essence, the rules need to be changed.”

A news release from the Committee for Community Developmental Change, which organized the protest, said Y.O.U. had not been honest with local minority business owners, with whom it has been in negotiations for two years, about how many local area contracts and jobs are being given to Evanston companies and individuals. However, Wilson said that Y.O.U. is not “the enemy” in this situation.

“Y.O.U. is not our target as a group, it’s the ‘business-as-usual’ model that’s our target,” Wilson said. “Business as usual can’t go on if we’re going to save our community.”

Seth Green, Y.O.U.’s executive director, said the organization did consider equity as a large part of its negotiations and contracting process when planning the new youth center. Green said Y.O.U. surpassed its goal of 30 percent of the construction being contracted by minority-, women- and locally owned businesses, but still welcomes dialogue about these topics in the community.

“We’re building a new youth center that is consistent with our values and our commitment to community,” Green said. “We’re proud to be helping our kids to raise their voices on these issues and simultaneously be committed as an organization.”

The new location will also look to employ and work with Evanston minority workers and businesses through jobs like janitorial work, catering services and landscaping. Green said 43 percent of Y.O.U. staff are people of color and 25 percent live in Evanston.

There will be more protests and calls to action for community members to express their frustration with the status quo on Evanston’s employment and contracting opportunities for local minorities, Wilson said.

“Unfortunately going through the government and normal roads isn’t going to work,” Wilson said.
“We’re going to have to stop people’s jobs, we’re going to have to be at these places, we’re going to have to show the community cares and it’s hurting and we’re not going to just die and go away.”

Wilson said Evanston is a progressive city and that these conversations will be different than those in places less willing to work with local communities of color. However, these conversations are important even here, he said.

“This is supposed to be the most liberal city in America,” Wilson said. “If we can’t get fair employment practices here, what does that say about the future for everyone else?”

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Twitter: @robinlopsahl