In just about two weeks, Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson will take office. Many have already labeled him Lori Lightfoot 2.0. And in that regard, his response to the recent takeover of downtown Chicago by groups of rowdy young people says that labeling appears to be quite true. 

Although he didn’t agree with the young people’s actions, he was quick to tell everybody not to demonize them. He said, “In no way do I condone the destructive activity we saw in the Loop and lakefront this weekend. It is unacceptable and has no place in our city. However, it is not constructive to demonize youth who have otherwise been starved of opportunities in their own communities.”

I don’t know if all the young people who went downtown have truly been starved of opportunities. If they have, my first question is, “What have the adults who are responsible for those young people been doing to provide opportunities for them?” 

Every Black neighborhood has more churches than anything else. What are those churches doing to provide recreational/entertainment opportunities for the young people in the community? Or are they simply drive-in locations for Sunday Service pastors? 

I’ll also wager that every last one of those young people had a cellphone whose monthly bill is at least $50. So some “economics” is ongoing somewhere in their lives. We also have no clue which neighborhoods they came from. Do we really know if they came from Chicago or the suburbs?

Brandon tempered his comment with this: “Our city must work together to create spaces for youth to gather safely and responsibly, under adult guidance and supervision, to ensure that every part of our city remains welcome for both residents and visitors.” 

He will be appointing the next Chicago Park District leader. That superintendent must be charged with immediately gathering all the supervisors of the very large park district field houses. Those supervisors should be responsible for providing opportunities for young people to have some place to go on Friday and Saturday nights. Opening the parks will at least begin to attract those children who want to do better with their lives.

One of the best things the park district offered that helped children do better with their lives was the Teen Leadership Program. My daughter was a part of the one at LaFollette Park. Without a common school or church, teen leadership gave young people a chance to meet other young people from all over the neighborhood. They met once a week for numerous activities, including all-night lock-in parties, trips to Minnesota for whitewater rafting and to Florida for Disney World. They fundraised for all of those events, and I was there, front and center, helping out. My most poignant memory was handling a teen leadership competition, and when asked what they were most proud of, a young girl out of Orr High School said, “making it to my senior year without getting pregnant.” That was spoken over 25 years ago and has stuck with me ever since.

By the time my son was eligible to join, Teen Leadership had effectively been eliminated by the Chicago Park District. They set rules that teens could only travel within Chicago. Instead of expanding what had been a very positive program, the powers-that-be made sure children had fewer opportunities to strive for anything other than disorder.

The park district is already in place. The buildings are already in place. The employees are already in place, for the most part. 

So, Brandon, get that park district in order so young people who have been starved of opportunities can now get real opportunities. Hold the feet of those park superintendents to the fire. If they can’t be productive at large parks, perhaps they need to go back to managing play lots — and the salaries that come with it!