Fighting for Health and Education – Youth Organizing in Chicago

Rachel Wallis

Fearless Leading by the Youth Members Blockade a University of Chicago Construction Site.

May 19th began and ended with two dramatic actions demanding a better future for Chicago’s youth. In the morning, eight young people locked themselves in front of bulldozers Protesting for a Trauma Center. constructing a new University of Chicago Hospital building to demand a Level 1 Trauma Center. A Level 1 Trauma Center treats adults with traumatic injuries. There are no Level 1 Trauma Centers on the South Side of Chicago. Victims of trauma, from gunshots to car crashes, must be transported to the North Side of Chicago or the suburbs to find hospitals that will treat them. In the process they lose critical treatment time, and sometimes their lives. Crossroads Fund grantee Fearless Leading by the Youth has been organizing to address the South Side "trauma desert" since 2010, when one of their organizers was shot and killed just blocks from the University of Chicago Hospital.

Their campaign has intensified with the announcement of a bid by the University of Chicago to build the Obama Presidential Library. As FLY Member Victoria Crider explained to Progress Illinois, "Before they can build such a prestigious attraction, they need to prioritize the lives of the young black people who are dying around them," Crider said. "We've been knocking on the university's door to get a trauma center for almost four years, and we've barely got their attention."

Protesters at Locked Up & Locked Out

Eight hours later and ten miles away, more than 200 youth and allies from a broad coalition of grassroots organizations were gathering on the South West Side at Paderewski Attaching a Lock to the Gates of the School. Elementary School, one of the fifty elementary schools closed by the Board of Education last year. On hand were more than ten current and former Crossroads Fund grantee groups, including Circles and Ciphers, Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce, Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, Immigrant Youth Justice League and a Long Walk Home.

In front of the school, youth performed music and spoken word, and attached dozens of locks to the shuttered school gates, representing the way that students are locked out of a quality public education in Chicago. The group then marched to the Juvenile Detention Center, where they talked about the school to prison pipeline, which criminalizes youth who are trying to get an education.

Across our city, youth are taking action every day demanding access to health, education and restorative justice practices that address the root causes of violence and crime. Crossroads Fund is honored to support the broad movement of young organizers working for racial, social and economic justice in the Chicago area.

Ethan Viets-Vanlear Performs Spoken Word in Front of the Juvenile Detention Center.

All photos by Sarah Jane Rhee