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Mass. teens demand more funding for job opportunities

Youth activists say juvenile records hold them back

Karen Morales
Mass. teens demand more funding for job opportunities
Young protesters in front of the Massachusetts State House.

Hundreds of young adults and teens from across Massachusetts rallied last Thursday to urge state leaders to increase funding for youth jobs, expunge non-violent juvenile records at age 18 and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The Feb. 22 rally, called “Dreams of our Future,” was organized by the teen empowerment organization I Have a Future and joined by several other groups such as Chelsea Collaborative, the Center for Teen Empowerment and Worcester Youth Center.

Young protesters participating in the “Dreams of our Future” rally at Copley Square.

The demonstration occurred during a particularly pertinent moment in the nation as the high school student survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting are protesting, debating and speaking out against the Trump Administration and the National Rifle Association in demand of stricter gun control laws.

At the Old South Church where the Boston march began, Jeysuan Gant, a 17-year-old youth leader for I Have a Future, placed the rally in context with the civil rights movement.

Gant cited Martin Luther King Jr.’s April, 1965 march from Roxbury to the Boston Common to protest the racial imbalance in schools and housing, and lamented that more than 50 years later, “we’re still talking about racial imbalances.”

Rep. Russell Holmes also spoke at the event, encouraging the teens to go to City Hall and the State House and “own all those buildings. Because your voices do matter and we want to hear from you,” he said.

Boston Teachers Union president Jessica Tang offered her full support of the rally, and said that things such as mandatory court fees and the inability of 18-year-olds to expunge their records of youthful offenses are little ways the system is failing young people, but changing them would be “concrete steps in the right direction.”

As testimony, 17-year-old Nora Meza shared her story of losing her mother in the past year and having to move in with her father, who had previously been absent in her life, and having to get a job to help her family pay bills. As someone with dreams to attend college and pursue a career, Meza said, “We need to keep teens off the streets and help them gain skills they can’t get at school. We need to change the narrative from young people being lazy to young people being hardworking.”

The young demonstrators marched from Copley Square to City Hall, and then stopped at the State House where groups of youth organizers met with legislators, such as Rep. Evandro Carvalho, to discuss the issues affecting them and their peers.

They are demanding that Gov. Charlie Baker increase funding for the YouthWorks jobs program by $4 million in the 2019 fiscal year.

The teens’ demands for juvenile criminal reform are currently being debated in the Legislature as part of a larger comprehensive criminal justice reform bill.