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Teens march on State House for youth jobs

Hundreds of young people protested on the State House steps Feb. 20

Kenneal Patterson
Teens march on State House for youth jobs
Teen advocates march in Downtown Crossing. PHOTO: KENNEAL PATTERSON

Hundreds of young people protested on the State House steps Feb. 20 during the 12th annual youth justice rally, entitled “2020 Vision: Reframe your Future.” Advocates from all across the commonwealth gathered in support of criminal justice reform, housing equity, funding for youth jobs, environmental protection and other issues that disproportionately impact Boston’s youth of color.

Teen advocates gather at the State House. PHOTO: KENNEAL PATTERSON

Teen advocates gather at the State House. PHOTO: KENNEAL PATTERSON

“Young people are citizens of our great city,” Rep. Liz Miranda told the Banner as the young people entered the State House. “They’re facing very similar challenges to adults. A lot of people talk about young people being the future, but they’re very much the present and now.”

Melanie Pires-Cardoso, a 16-year-old sophomore at the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, said that problems cannot be addressed without youth involvement.

“If kids like me are not here speaking upon these issues, then changes won’t happen,” she said.

Pires-Cardoso encouraged youth to get involved, adding, “This is for our future.” She urged legislators to take youth opinions into consideration.

At the State House, the young advocates met with their local legislators to discuss issues like youth employment. The organization that planned the rally, I Have a Future (IHAF), noted that young people lack opportunities for stable jobs. Many teenagers struggle to provide for themselves, let alone provide for their families or save money for college.

Miranda acknowledged the challenges of low-income households.

“Young people from our community, unlike other places who might be doing something to learn a skill, they’re also contributing to their households,” she told the Banner. “So having a job is incredibly important to pay for transportation, for food, and to help their families.”

PHOTO: KENNEAL PATTERSON

IHAF urged young people to demand funding for YouthWorks, an employment program that trains youth and prepares them for the workforce. It especially targets low-income families and provides access to paid short-term work experiences. The program has been funded at a level rate over the past few years, but the cost of living has skyrocketed. Furthermore, the minimum wage increase from 2015-2017 meant that the program lost 878 jobs, a 20% cut. For fiscal year 2021, advocates are requesting $19.3 million in funding for YouthWorks jobs in order to provide for hundreds more young people.

Advocates are also calling for $5.5 million in funding for School-to-Career Connecting Activities, an initiative of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that connects high schoolers with jobs and internships relevant to their future careers.

“As students, we should be working at jobs that connect us to what we want to do in the future, and I feel like there’s not enough jobs like that,” said Pires-Cardoso. She later added, “I want to be able to work a job where I’m not only thankful for the money but the opportunities it gives me.”

Juvenile criminal justice reform was also addressed at the rally. Advocates hope to raise the upper age in delinquency and youthful offender cases to 20 years old over the next three years. The aim is to protect young people under 21 from being prematurely convicted. A bill entitled “An Act to Promote Public Safety and Better Outcomes for Young Adults” notes that the average brain does not develop until young people reach their early 20s. It asks why youth are forced to face adult consequences at such young ages, especially since many end up “aging out” of the justice system. Exposure to toxic environments, it states, increases the probability of recidivism.

In 2013, Massachusetts stopped immediately prosecuting 17-year-olds as adults. The act notes that since then, juvenile crime has declined by 38%. Currently, teens and young adults incarcerated in Massachusetts adult correctional facilities have a 55% re-conviction rate. This act hopes to lower that statistic.

“An Act Relative to Expungement” has also been proposed. The bill intends to expunge certain nonviolent offenses from a teen’s criminal record. While young people can currently expunge one offense prior to their 21st birthday, those with multiple court cases are ineligible for expungement. The bill notes that clean records allow youth to enroll in college or pursue a career without being haunted by past offenses.

Somaya Laroussi, a 19 year-old Boston University student, told the Banner why the bill is personal for many.

“A lot of us have parents that are ex-felons, or have been incarcerated years ago, [and] they’ve done everything that they can now to follow the law,” she said. “Yet they’re still prevented from getting their licenses renewed or finding a good stable job to provide for the family.”

Laroussi especially advocated for environmental justice. She noted how communities of color are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards imposed on their communities.

“I think environmental justice is really important to Boston youth,” she told the Banner. “Because a lot of us, especially from black and brown communities, we’re disproportionately affected. People come into our communities, they build facilities that benefit them but harm us, especially health-wise, and that’s not right.”

Jeisanelly Hernandez, 18, added that she was personally affected by climate change.

“I was born in Springfield, but I grew up with eczema and asthma,” she said. “And that’s just the health effects of pollution.”

The Housing Opportunity and Mobility through Eviction Sealing (HOMES) bill aims to prevent unfair evictions. Minors are often added to an eviction record, which presents a barrier when they ultimately look for housing. These records are publicly available, regardless of the outcome of the case. The bill hopes to seal all eviction cases until an allegation is proven.

The adult perspective

Throughout the rally, leaders expressed pride for the young people’s determination and resilience. Gerly Adrien, a councilwoman from Everett, told the Banner that young women should run and get involved in politics.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said.  “Don’t let anybody tell you no. Because they told me no three times and I won.”

Adrien recalled that when she was 16, she was also advocating on issues like the ones presented Thursday.

“I didn’t realize how much my power was limited,” she said. “But all the power was within the elected officials. So I said, when I run for office, and I make those decisions, I was going to involve youth. … It’s important that youth get involved and make sure they call [their legislators]. Because they’re making the decision every day without them.”

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