Norris Stevenson, right, works with a man seeking employment help during state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford's hiring event. | Lee Edwards/Contributor

According to a recent article by the Chicago Tribune, African Americans make up 52 percent of the city’s unemployment rate and 40 percent of residents who are not in the labor force despite being just 29 percent of the city’s population.

However, numerous community leaders in the city have tried to address unemployment, including elected officials like State Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th), who hosted an event designed on Dec. 3 to try to alleviate the black male unemployment rate.

Held at the Austin Wellness Center, 4800 W. Chicago Ave., Ford’s event helped area men reacquire their driver’s license and other forms of identification that may have been suspended due to complications from child support.

“We continue to hear that the unemployment rate is down to four percent, but they can’t possibly be including black people in that number because black youth and black men are rated the highest in unemployment,” said Ford.

Ford said that the government can sometimes be an unnecessary barrier for fathers interested in paying child support. Some understanding by the state, he said, can go a long way.

“The most important thing is to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to have work, but driver’s licenses tend to be a barrier keeping people from getting to and from work,” said Ford. “We have men that want to pay their child support but can’t because they can’t get a job; so we can’t give any excuse for anyone not to pay.”

Ford highlighted ride share services like Uber and Lyft as viable employment avenues that require a driver’s license.

Norris Stevenson, deputy administrator for field operations for the Illinois Dept. of Healthcare and Family Services division of child support services, was asked by Ford to take part in the event. Stevenson said that the presence of so many men at the event helps dispel the myth that black fathers want nothing to do with their children.

“You look here today and you see a roomful of fathers who are saying let’s take care of the issues today that are causing me not to be able to provide as much as I possibly can for my family,” said Stevenson. “By helping the fathers, we also help the children that they’re helping to raise.”

Kevin Lillybridge, a South Holland resident, learned of the program from an internet advertisement. He said he was unaware of any other outlets providing the service. He called his current economic outlook “very challenging.”

“I’m taking jobs and working jobs where the wage rate is much lower and because I am an older employee,” said Lillybridge.  “I don’t think people want to give an opportunity to someone who has been in the work force a little bit longer than some of the people much younger than me.”

Lillybridge, who said he’s up to date on his child support payments, believes in paying child support for both ethical and legal reasons. He called the full room of applicants seeking to get their licenses reinstated “alarming”.

“It’s a double edged sword,” said Lillybridge.  “You want them to work to pay the money but you are holding back from getting their license.”