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Nobody gave Evanston an “A” as a safe place for teens, said Joey Rodger, acting executive director of Peaceful Cities: Evanston, referring to a recent meeting of Future Focus, a civic engagement initiative for teens at Family Focus. The group met earlier this month to reflect and brainstorm how Evanston could become a peaceable place for them and for their friends.

It is not that the youth are saying there are no peaceful places in Evanston, said Ms. Rodger. In fact they named the City’s recreation centers, the YMCA and the YWCA, the library, and churches as places they feel safe. The football field at ETHS “feels like home because I’m aware that nothing is gonna happen there,” said one of the teens. Lighthouse Beach and downtown also made the list, which some may feel is quite short for a town of nearly 75,000 people.

The 20 youth present were discouraged about the overall safety for teens in Evanston. When invited to grade the City and explain it, the majority offered a grade of C or lower. Many commented that the City is “usually a safe place to be, but violence happens at certain times.” One student said she thought that the City deserved an F “because of the crime, fights, drama and bullying.” A more optimistic person refused to give a letter grade, stating that “Evanston is what you make it.”

After spirited discussion, participants reported that both new resources and attitudes were needed to make the situation better. They want more respect for all people, love, team work, and incentives for doing positive things. They would like classes in anger management and sex education – “not just the scary stuff like disease, disease, disease, but real sex education.” More places for teens to go, opportunities at the public schools as well as fun after-school programs would help. They want free transportation for students, parties, community BBQs, and greater police patrol presence. They also want jobs, and not just summer jobs. Adults are needed, both more positive role models and leaders. Most of these suggestions are not surprising and do not require
impossible resources.

The teens are more than willing to do their parts by not doing some things and doing others. They volunteered that they can show less interest in drama and walk away from fights. One noted that “it would show people that fighting must not be very interesting if no one cares.” “Speaking up and out about things that are wrong” would bring about change, said another.

The Future Focus youth said they believe they can make a difference in many ways: helping others with school work, respecting others, communicating with new kids, not littering, listening to positive music, or joining a “stop the violence” group or a neighborhood watch. They also said they want to volunteer, to spend time doing community service, to create more activities, to volunteer at the dreamed-of new free teen community center where everyone is welcome. They offered to “talk to the younger generations so we can prevent certain things,” start a gun-buy-back drive and help create an annual event “similar to the Gospel Fest, but completely free.” They said they can do things for others, help with daycare, and “give a homeless man a dollar when you have
one to give.”

One participant, taking a long view, said, “What I can do is never stop, never give up my dream and help other people.”

These young people know what a peaceable city would be like, said Ms. Rodger. “To use some of their words, it would be not just safe, but ‘accepting, relaxed, welcoming, beautiful, quiet, unique, eventful, exuberant, jovial, joyful, captivating, gang-free, fun, and hopeful.’ Who wouldn’t want to live in such a place?

“These Future Focus youth understand what it takes to move from a City that gets a C- or worse as ‘peaceable for teens’ to a city that could get an A, and they are willing to help. Are there others willing to help make their hopes come to life? A city that gets an A for safety, peace, and respect for all who live and work there is possible. Let’s join them so we can all get there.”