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‘Funeral’ mourns lack of city-funded youth jobs

Organizers question City Hall priorities

Eliza Dewey
‘Funeral’ mourns lack of city-funded youth jobs
Organizers with the group Youth Justice and Power Union staged a silent funeral procession through Boston last week to call for more city-funded youth jobs.

Youth organizers staged a ‘funeral’ procession for youth jobs in downtown Boston last week to criticize the lack of significant funding increases in the city’s budget for summer and year-round employment — a flatline that they said reflected misplaced priorities on the part of City Hall when compared to increases in the city’s police budget.

“We’re not getting enough youth jobs, and we’re getting a lot of youth violence,” said Peaches Perez, an organizer with the convening group, Youth Justice and Power Union. “So [the ‘funeral’] is to symbolize both the loss of youth jobs and the youth we’ve lost.”

The group issued a statement before the march that contrasted the funding for the two city departments, both of which come in direct contact with many of the city’s young people.

“In the fight for youth jobs and liberation, police have never been the solution to our communities’ problems and never will be,” the statement said. “City-funded youth jobs levels have been frozen for the past five years, while the police budget has continued to rise, showing that the City prioritizes investing in a department that hurts and arrests young people over opportunities for young people to be leaders.”

Students and activists convened at Park Street station last week before heading on a silent ‘funeral’ procession to protest a lack of more robust funding for city-sponsored youth jobs.

The group says the funding for the SuccessLink youth jobs program (previously the Boston Youth Fund’s HOPELINE) has not been increased in a substantive way in five years. The YJPU group is calling for an increase in the city’s youth jobs budget to $9.6 million.

An organizer with the group clarified in an email to the Banner that while there has been one recent increase in funding, it went to cover the increase in the state’s minimum wage, rather than expanding the number of jobs available which the group seeks.

The BYF has provided employment opportunities for Boston youth at non-profit organizations across the city for more than twenty years. It is managed under the city’s Department of Youth Engagement and Employment.

YJPU led a group of about one hundred young people and youth advocates from Park Street station through the streets of downtown, ending at City Hall. They walked in silence with mock caskets painted with the words “RIP Youth Jobs” and signs calling for more investment in youth programs.

At City Hall, they split into two groups. The first staged a sit-in outside the building for five minutes to symbolize the five years without a funding increase, while the second went to Mayor Martin Walsh’s office and staged a similar sit-in. Because it was close to 5:00 on Wednesday, the sit-in did not disrupt much foot traffic except for a few city staff members leaving the office for the day.

In addition to the funding issue, youth organizers also want the age range for SuccessLink expanded to cover 14- to 19-year-olds. Mayor Walsh previously expanded the program’s eligibility to include 18-year-olds.

Contract for youth

The group points to a contract that Mayor Walsh signed during his campaign at a youth forum on October 16, 2013 that included commitments similar to what they are pushing for now. These include the age expansion and a request for increased funding that would generate 5,000 summer jobs. The group told the Banner that they wanted the 5,000 jobs to come from city funding in addition to the roughly 6,000 private sector jobs that the city coordinates through public-private partnerships.

The break-down in numbers between jobs created through strict public funding and jobs leveraged through public-private partnerships appears to be a main sticking point. The mayor’s office responded to the Banner’s request for comment on YPJU’s demands with a statement emphasizing the role of such public-private partnerships in creating youth jobs.

“In 2014 alone, the mayor’s Summer Jobs Program, including public and private sector partners, provided over 10,000 youth jobs,” said mayoral deputy press secretary Juli Hanscom via email. “While local government is a leader in these efforts, the private sector also plays a major role in providing young people with meaningful employment experiences, and a productive, safe working environment. We appreciate the commitment of our private sector partners, and continue to engage new companies to cultivate young talent in the City.”

While the total of 10,000 jobs touted by the Mayor’s Office sounds much larger than what YPJU is calling for, the difference lies in how many of those jobs come directly from city funding versus public-private partnerships.

Students from Boston Latin School and UMass carry a mock coffin painted with the words “RIP Youth Jobs.”

“The mayor’s FY16 budget includes an increase in funding to maintain the more than 3,300 youth summer jobs funded directly by the City with this year’s increase in minimum wage,” Hancsom said in her email statement. The YJPU organizers want to see that 3,300 number increased to 5,000.

A seat at the table

At the Wednesday march, the YJPU group also called for a direct sit-down meeting with the mayor, in keeping with the October 2013 contract.

The group said they have reached out to the Mayor’s Office multiple times to schedule an appointment but so far have not been able to sit down with him personally. They said they had meetings with two of his staff members but that they wanted to meet with the Mayor himself.

“We’ve tried to hold meetings with the mayor,” said Ziquelle Smalls, an organizer with YJPU. “We get meetings with city councilors. Unfortunately, we just get [the mayor’s] front desk.”

Another organizer with the group clarified via email that while the mayor did sit down earlier this year with some of YJPU’s partner groups — Boston Student Advisory Council and Youth Organizers United for the Now Generation — for an introductory meeting to discuss education, his office had not responded to at least five requests from YJPU to meet with them on youth jobs specifically.

The Mayor’s Office confirmed for the Banner that the group did not have a scheduled appointment with the mayor on the day of the ‘funeral’ march. When marchers went to his office anyways to stage their sit-in, a staff member at the front desk said that the mayor was not there. The group opted to provide their contact information to another staff member, Yvonne Ortiz, who said the mayor’s office would follow up with them about the possibility of scheduling a future meeting.

The matter of personal meetings with the mayor is significant to the YJPU group because the same October 2013 contract includes a commitment from Walsh to “meet with leading youth organizers of Boston within the first month of my term, and after that every three months, so that I make sure youth play a key role around youth policy, particularly as it relates to jobs, education, and transportation.”

Smalls said the group had met in person with several city councilors, including Ayanna Pressley, Tito Jackson, Charles Yancey, Matt O’Malley and Michelle Wu.

As they wrapped up their sit-in on Wednesday, the activists signaled their intent to continue the conversation.

“We’re going to hold [the Mayor] accountable,” said Roy James Daley, an YJPU organizer on Wednesday. “We’ll be back.”

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