An array of food is available at a June 2021 Hovland Court block party. More block parties are planned as part of a 2022 safe summer initiative. Credit: Sarah Parisien

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This summer, the City of Evanston and a collective of nine community organizations are addressing the complex problem of youth violence with what might seem like a simple solution: To keep kids safe, keep them busy.

The “safe summer” rollout includes a block party on Hovland Court on June 4, monthly First Friday celebrations in Mason Park, a brand-new teen center at Gibbs-Morrison, an in-person and virtual summer youth employment program and a new local holiday of sorts: Violence Prevention Week.

Nine organizations – including the Moran Center, Youth Job Center, Y.O.U. peer services, the YWCA and Connections for the Homeless – are collaborating with the city on the youth safe summer programming. The collective of groups calls the initiative My City, Your City, Our City.

“Our goal is to make the summer as fun and safe as possible” for all participating youth, said Jermey McCray, Manager of the Youth and Young Adult Outreach Division for the City of Evanston. He spoke to a virtual audience at the May 12 hybrid meeting of the Social Services Committee.

“When the shooting [on Hovland] took place in 2021, we wanted to create more of a wraparound support for the youth and kind of get more in the thick of things,” McCray said, adding that the collective felt young people needed immediate attention and wanted to give them something to help keep their schedules full.

Summer employment

The in-person version of the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program begins June 6. McCray said 734 young people attended the March 12 job fair, and city officials anticipate placing 300 to 350 of them in positions that run from June 6 through Aug. 5. For the first time, young employees will be required to participate in a job orientation that includes training on the issues of sexual harassment and healthy relationships. 

This year the Virtual Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment will also be an option for young people who may be unable to work in-person. The virtual program, which begins June 7, teaches life skills such as financial literacy, building a resume and how to interview. The program meets twice a week after summer school has ended for the day. The application opens on the city website May 16. Participants can earn up to $500.

“I think that with both of these things running side by side, it should have a lot of the youth in Evanston occupied for a long time,” McCray said. “So I think that’s our goal, to have the kids working and continue doing something for the entire summer.” 

When an attendee at the hybrid meeting asked McCray about the age range for the program, he said the collective has “moved away from ages” and considers the effort to be a family service, working with youth from nine to adults up to 70.

Violence Prevention Week, First Friday events

The My City, Your City, Our City Collective will begin the safe summer initiative with Mayor Daniel Biss proclaiming May 23 to May 27 as Violence Prevention Week, which corresponds with the final full week of classes in District 65.

The collective partnered with District 65 and District 202 for the weeklong dedication, and it will take place toward the end of the school year every year “here on out,” McCray said.

Biss is set to declare June 3 as Gun Violence Prevention Day, and attendees are encouraged to wear orange to that day’s First Friday celebration, 6 to 9 p.m. in Mason Park.

“Orange symbolizes the color that hunters wear to make others hunters know that human life is present and precious, and not to shoot,” McCray said.

Mason Park will host an event on the first Friday of every month during the summer.

Sponsored block parties

As part of the My City initiative, McCray said the collective will help block clubs sponsor block parties as part of an effort to ensure meaningful and productive activities for the summer. The first block party will be 1 to 7 p.m. June 4 on Hovland.

The block party will include a barbecue, games, free activities, obstacle courses, and giveaways – all free.

The party “will be obviously a fun-filled event, everything will be free. And we’ll be out there to celebrate some great things and make sure that the community knows that we’re moving in peace,” McCray said.

New teen center at Gibbs-Morrison

To add to the array of choices local youth have this summer, the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center is opening a new teen center for high school students, who will be running the center.

There will be an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center on May 24. 

“We have redone Gibbs-Morrison, we’ve added new furniture inside, we’ve added new TVs inside, we added new … we pretty much reshaped it, for it to look like an actual teen center,” McCray said.

While Gibbs-Morrison will have a space for older teens, Robert Crown Community Center will be the drop-in center for middle school youth. 

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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