Jerry Stender, owner of Personal Liquor, is the example of what the West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders wants other area liquor stores to emulate. The store owner does not sell alcohol to minors, cards those purchasing alcohol, hires its own security guards and keeps the entrance free of loiters and litter.
“It is not in [a business’s] best interest to sell to underage people and to have loitering,” said Stender, the co-owner of a family business he said has been around since the Prohibition era.
“People who take advantage of that are doing a disservice to themselves and to the people in the community…You must be able to respect that community,” he said.
A small, but passionate group of residents, activists and elected officials held a rally Saturday, April 18, outside of Stender’s store, 4241 W. Madison St. Their goal was to spotlight how good business could also prove good for public safety.
The rally was part of a larger campaign to reduce alcohol and drug abuse among teenagers. April is Alcohol Awareness Month.
The campaign’s goal is to persuade businesses to partner with community groups to help reduce underage drinking. WGPCS plans to partner with city and state liquor control boards to offer training to alcohol distributors. The training teaches businesses how to accurately check IDs, recognize minors, prevent second-party sales, and refuse a sale.
“We are not saying not to run a business,” said Rev. Walter Jones of Fathers Who Care. “But what we can say is please have some compassion and not sell alcohol to young minors.”
“That’s what you want to find in a store,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), referencing Personal Liquors. He noted the store is one of the few in the area that works with community groups to curtail underage liquor sales, which he added can be problematic.
“We want to continue to work to make sure our young people don’t fall prey to … drugs and alcohol,” he said. “It’s easy to start, but hard to get off. So we want to make sure they don’t take that route to begin with.”
To prevent youth from going down that path, WGPCS is one of six nonprofit agencies in the country to receive a $125,000 match grant from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to address underage drinking. SAMHSA is an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
According SAMHSA, nationally about 11 percent of eighth graders reported drinking alcohol within the last 30 days, while 28 percent of 10th graders and 42 percent of 12th graders used alcohol during the same period.
A 2014 Illinois Youth Survey (IYS) found that, in West Garfield alone, 10 percent of sixth graders and 17 percent of eighth graders used alcohol within the last year. Data is not available for alcohol use among high school students for West Garfield.
Among those surveyed, the preferred drink among teens was alcoholic energy drinks commonly known as “high octane alcohol.” According to IYS, 57 percent of sixth graders and 60 percent of eighth graders prefer such drinks.
Those drinks contain a high volume of alcohol compared to regular beer. Beer’s alcoholic content is about five percent; whereas these often fruit flavored high octane drinks have alcohol content as high as 12 percent.
“You drink this bottle [and] you are literally drunk, literally out your wits. Folks drink this alcohol and commit all types of crime,” Jones said.
There are health risks associated with underage drinking, said Ahmad Djangi, a field director with the city’s Department of Family and Support Services and chair of WGPCH. Djangi noted underage drinking affects brain development since teens’ brains are not fully developed until age 25.
Underage drinking, he said, can lead to depression, alcohol addiction and bipolar disorder. Drinking alcohol is also a learned behavior, Djangi said. A component of the campaign is to educate parents to drink responsibly, secure alcohol out of reach of children and discuss the difference between social and everyday drinking, he added.
“Since kids can find it (alcohol) in any home it is more dangerous than marijuana,” Djangi said.
Education is key to reducing Black Americans reliance of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs, said U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th). Davis, who once smoked for 20 years, said advertising made smoking seem cool when he attended college.
“We thought cigarette smoking would make us tall, dark and handsome,” Davis quipped. That’s not the case back then or now, he said, noting that putting toxins in the body shortens one life span, especially for black males.
“Black men live shorter than any other population group in the United States,” Davis said. “That’s because we smoke the most cigarettes. We drink the most liquor. We don’t take proper care of ourselves, so we have no other choice but to die. We can stop that.”
State Rep. LaShawn K. Ford (8th) applauded WGPCS’s work to reduce underage drinking. But he was critical of Gov. Rauner’s budget cuts, which suspended $26 million in funds to social services programs. He said some of these programs, such as Teen Reach, keep youth off the streets.
“The West Side of Chicago struggles from the lack of resources coming from the state. We need to make sure that we send a message that if we are going to tell the kids to say no to something, we must give them something to say yes to,” Ford said. “We must do everything that we can to give the young people something to strive for on the West Side of Chicago.”