Young But Mighty

“Where I Stand” teens have a clear vision of safety, security and opportunity in Chicago

When it comes to peace and justice, are you a burner or a builder?

For 21 Chicago teens who met at Uptown’s Institute of Cultural Affairs (USA), it boiled down to constructively burning down barriers and building new relationships, emphasizing ways and means for families, schools and communities to do better.

The occasion for such deep thought was the Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab Youth Lock-In, “Where I Stand.” April 13–15, multiethnic adolescents hailing from Englewood, Little Village, Bronzeville and Uptown met in solidarity to talk about their roles in addressing myriad issues: gun violence, a perceived lack of support for public education, and development (for example, what Chicago communities get to benefit from new technology, jobs, etc.)

“They talked about the 95th Street Red Line expansion and how it will create job opportunities, but also may displace people,” said Jhmira Alexander, a South Shore consultant who attended Where I Stand and shared social media strategies to help the participants amplify their causes. “They know a lot about gentrification and are concerned that it could happen here, and they don’t want families to feel pushed out of the city.”

“They expressed their ideas clearly and with great understanding,” Alexander added, noting that while young, the group knew the power of its values and voices.

The burner/builder concept was born during a session with Olatunji Oboi Reed, head of Equiticity, which focuses on racial equity and justice through increased mobility. Following the #Enough National School Walkout (March 14) and The March for Our Lives (March 24), Where I Stand teens are eager to be included and highlighted in discussions that affect them where they are; “they wanted to be involved ‘in’ and not dictated ‘to’,” Alexander said.

Yet Journey Jamison, 16, knows that being young and taking on the responsibility that comes from caring about your community can be challenging — she is active in Ujima Medics, which trains community members to respond to emergencies. So she highlighted the necessity of self-care in her Where I Stand conversations.

“You have to make sure you’re good because you cannot be giving from no empty well,” said Journey, a street medic who has learned how to control crowds, and what to do before police and paramedics arrive. With her training she has actually saved a life; Journey was profiled by WBEZ and on and , and she received a Twitter shout from actress Alyssa Milano.

Journey continued: “You have to understand what you want because if you are trying to help everyone, and not replenishing, you’re going to be stale and mean by the time you’re 25.”

In discussing how they might leverage social media for causes and hot-button issues, Alexander challenged the teens to develop a framework for a messaging campaign that they plan to use for a Facebook sustainability campaign: “They gave me the tone of voice to help them make their case,” she said.

“They’re looking at themselves as a constituency within the city. They’re positioning themselves as a group of youth thought leaders in Chicago.”


This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.