If an idle mind is indeed the devil’s workshop, what’s to be said for the minds and bodies of our teens and older youth this summer without adequate funds for summer job programs?
Summertime in Boston is supposed to conjure feelings of relaxation — a welcome break to residents from the harsh toll of winter in the northeast. Yet, the rise in violent deaths of youths across the city has heightened the alarm of many residents for the safety and welfare of Boston’s young people.
Our teens have been voicing their concern for months. In February, more than 700 youths from Roxbury, Dorchester and other neighborhoods took to the streets and marched through Boston Common to rally at the Statehouse in protest of the announced state cuts in summer jobs funding.
A sentiment expressed by many of the young speakers was a growing fear of inner-city violence erupting in the absence of summer job opportunities for youth. In recent weeks, a flood of teens attended a jobs fair in Dorchester as well as a Boston City Hall hearing on summer jobs organized by City Councilor Felix Arroyo Jr., to both apply for summer work and appeal to leadership at the state and local level for support of teen jobs programs.
Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) has championed an extensive summer jobs program for the youth for over 43 years. In 2009, with the help of Recovery Act economic stimulus funds, we were able to place 2,200 out of 5,000 youth applicants, ages 14-24, at jobs in more than 250 community-based work sites, including hospitals, colleges, clinics, libraries, child care programs, summer camps and government agencies.
In addition, the ABCD SummerWorks program kicked off last week at the Reggie Lewis Track & Athletic Center in Roxbury. Close to 1,000 inner-city youths from all of Boston’s neighborhoods were in attendance and filled out job applications.
Our current funds are able to support just 750 jobs for Boston’s youth (about 10 percent of the expected 7,000 to 8,000 applications expected by our July 1 program start date). If something doesn’t happen at the government level, it is likely that thousands will go without the benefit of a summer job.
In March, Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., stated that nationwide African American youth unemployment rates were estimated to be as high as 42 percent.
A glimmer of hope was seen recently in the form of legislation filed by Congressman David Obey, D-Wis., for $600 million for summer youth programs. The Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act of 2010 passed the House on March 24 and is now being considered in the Senate. The bill would create 200,000 summer jobs.
Last year, over 40 percent of the 300,000 participants in nationwide summer job programs created by economic stimulus funds were African American, and nearly one-quarter were Latino.
Many of the young people we serve — especially African Americans and Latinos in the inner-city areas of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan — are indeed themselves household earners, oftentimes assisting either a single parent or grandparent guardian in keeping a family afloat.
When you consider the burden placed on a family in the midst of nonexistent opportunities for its young, the appeal of misguided alternatives to a child become very understandable when the survival of a loved one is at stake.
By providing educational counseling, exposure to career opportunities and financial education, ABCD SummerWorks enables young people to explore the world around them as well as the potential within themselves.
We teach our young to do what is necessary for what is right — even in uncertain times. The time has come for our leadership to do the same. Our youth are both watching and depending on it.
Victor Kakulu is the Public Relations Manager of Action for Boston Community Development, Inc. (ABCD), the Boston-area antipoverty agency. ABCD has run a summer jobs program since 1965.