More jobs, improved safety and increased accountability of elected officials are needed to improve Austin’s economic future, local residents said during a Sept. 20 community meeting hosted by Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st).
Some 60 residents sat in Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin to get their concerns heard during what was billed as an “endangered population” tour of some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city. The will take his tour to the South Side in October.
The event was tense, as many residents spoke out in anger and frustration about their living conditions. Boykin and other elected officials and community leaders mostly listened.
“I’m tired. I’m 51 years old, and I’m tired,” said resident Brenda Thomas, who complained about the poor street lighting in her neighborhood that’s gone ignored by the city and that’s also attracting criminals to the area.
“I need my light fixed. I’m afraid in my home. I’m about to get me a gun and start carrying it if I can’t come out of my home,” Thomas said.
The community needs more resources, especially for job creation, said resident Jonathan Todd, a clinical social worker.
“We got to start re-investing into human capital,” he said. “We’ve got to use every entity that we have. Each one of us in this room, we got about five or six levels of services that we can tap into.”
Passions and frustrations remained high during the two-hour meeting.
“We’re not getting angry enough,” said Milton Johnson, a resident who also works as a community liaison at Bobby E. Wright Behavioral Health Center in East Garfield Park.
“I and many of my people are living in a nightmare,” he said. “We’re looking at confusion, fear, helplessness, hopelessness and, above all, anger.”
Much of the anger was directed toward the elected officials.
Too many city lawmakers have sided with Mayor Rahm Emanuel over their constituents, many said. One resident urged his neighbors to vote those lawmakers who backed Emanuel’s tax and fee increases out of office at the next election.
In response, Austin Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said the mayor often withholds resources from wards whose aldermen oppose him. Needed resources, Taliaferro insisted, should not be used as bargaining chips by the mayor.
The first-term alderman added that he voted against those tax and fee hikes, because they weren’t in the best interest of his constituents. (Taliaferro was one of 10 aldermen who voted “no” on a new water and sewage tax, according to Progress Illinois.)
In addition to anger, however, the room was also filled with some hope.
To combat gang violence, one resident called for more intervention programs. Chicago also needs to create transitional “safe houses” outside the city for former gang-bangers trying to escape the street life, the resident said.
More than a dozen residents spoke, many wanting to see more trade schools, job centers and youth programs offered.
Improved city services and better communication from elected officials about resources – and about meetings like Tuesday night’s listening tour – are also needed, residents said.
Some young people also took to the mic to offer solutions and their personal story.
Terry Keivious, 24, said he’s seen and experienced every hardship imaginable, including a stint in jail. He said he’s left that life behind and encouraged other young folk to choose a better path. Keivious also strongly supports having more youth programs.
“I’m living proof that they work. If they didn’t work, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Boykin kicked off his listening tour, which runs through November, last week at New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park. The commissioner said the solutions discussed at the meetings will be put into an action plan and presented to the city, county and state leadership.