In the wake of one of the deadliest school years in Chicago history, anti-violence groups are trying to keep students safe this summer despite funding cuts to already tight budgets.
With less than three weeks before Chicago Public Schools let out for the summer, the student death toll is perched precariously at 36-the highest in years-causing community organizations to fear the worst for this summer.
Though anti-violence organizations are facing a funding crunch, one federal program will provide grant money to Chicago neighborhoods with youth gang problems. The Justice Department’s Federal Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative will give as much as $105,000 to support programs designed to curtail gang involvement on Chicago’s south and west sides.
“The intention was to have summer programming open for them,” said Chris Zack, who monitors the program’s compliance with federal rules. “It’s about keeping kids off the street and reducing the allure of the gang life.”
But the federal money comes too late for one organization’s student-work program. Chicago-based Black Star Project’s summer jobs program, which addressed economic tensions in some of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, recently lost funding.
Last year, about 80 young people were employed through the program, said Black Star Project Executive Director Phillip Jackson.
“As soon as our program was over, three of our children were shot and one of them was killed,” Jackson said. “So we know that keeping young people constructively engaged saves their lives.”
But to start reversing the deadly trend of increased violence among youth, Jackson insists that Chicago needs resources and support from fellow Chicago resident, President Barack Obama.
“Right now, we’re being ignored by the White House. They’re saying, ‘I don’t know if we can win,'” Jackson said. “But it’s not about winning.”
As summer approaches, Jackson doesn’t predict any improvements to Chicago’s current trend of violence without intervention from properly-funded community organizations.
“It’s not even gotten hot yet,” he said. “When it gets hot is when things usually pick up. If that’s an indication, we’re in trouble.”
Diane Latiker, founder and president of Kids Off The Block, a South Side-based youth outreach organization, said the recent slew of youth violence has her group even more focused on keeping students busy this summer. But with the U.S. economy in a severe recession, Latiker has had to do more with less this year.
To combat youth violence, the organization will hold an anti-violence march the week before summer break, followed by a rally where kids can sign up for summer programs.
“Our efforts have intensified,” said Latiker. “We’re offering basketball, tutoring and community organizing. We’re doing just like we’ve been doing without the money-we’re going to the community for support.”