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Summer jobs critical for peace in the streets, students say

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Summer jobs critical for peace in the streets, students say
A crowd of teen activists marched through Downtown Crossing last week as part of a demonstration for more funding for youth jobs. The march ended at the State House, where the teens went to lobby legislators. (Photo: Yawu Miller)

A crowd of teen activists estimated at more than 700 marched though the streets of downtown Boston last week in a demonstration demanding funding for youth jobs.

Chanting “youth united will never be defeated,” the predominantly black and Latino crowd of teens rallied in front of the State House before packing Gardner Auditorium for a meeting before fanning out to meet with legislators.

There the organizers spoke about their commitment to protecting teen jobs.

“When I was 15, I looked for a job but wasn’t able to find one,” said Britanny Morgan, a teen leader from Dorchester Bay Youth Force and co-chairwoman of the rally. “I know so many of my friends face a similar predicament. I decided that I wasn’t just going to take this situation. I decided to fight back and help organize a rally for youth jobs.”

At issue is more than $6 million in funding cuts to programs that create youth jobs, anti-violence programs and job training programs in next year’s budget.

The Youth Works Teen Jobs program which funded 4,595 jobs last year would take the biggest hit, with a 50 percent cut to its $8 million in funding.

The teens say the funding is critical to helping teens learn job skills and stay off the streets.

“When you have a job, you have a place to go,” said Gertura Gbaro, who works with Youth Engagement in Worcester, a program that helps youth find jobs. “Part of the reason kids get into drugs and alcohol is because they have nothing else to do.”

While many of the teens at the rally emphasized crime reduction as a key incentive to funding youth jobs, Gabriella Gilbert, who worked at City School last year, said her job was a great learning experience.

“I learned about different issues, social issues, how the media affects our lives, racial justice issues,” said the Boston Latin sophomore. “I’m here today because I want other people to be able to have that experience.”

The demonstration was organized by a coalition of youth groups in Boston, Worcester, Lowell, New Bedford and Lynn.

Lawmakers said the demonstration and lobbying by the teens could help them in their quest to save jobs.

“Prospects are always vastly improved when people show up and tell their story,” said state Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz.

“It’s impressive that all these kids came out during school vacation,” said state Rep. Marty Walsh.

But with as much as a $3 billion budget deficit, state funding cuts are an inevitability, Walsh said.

“It’s so tough in this economy,” he said. “But they are the future of Massachusetts, so we have to take that into consideration.”

Youth organizer Dan Gelbtuch said this year’s rally, along with a lobbying effort last year have raised the issue of youth jobs with legislators.

“In every single office that folks went to, this was on their radar already,” Gelbtuch said. “A lot of the elected officials were receptive. But they all said this would be a really tough economy.”