Evanston teens and young adults delivered passionate pleas Nov. 1 for the city to take action against gun violence and systemic racism, as part of the Youth Advisory Committee’s first Youth Town Hall.
“Listening to youth voices is not something politicians should do,” said Olivia Ohlson, the mayor of the committee. “It is something they must do.”
YAC is a new initiative and partnership between the city and Evanston Cradle to Career. This committee gives youth between the ages of 14 and 24 the opportunity to participate in shaping the local government. They spoke to an audience of city officials, parents and concerned residents, who crowded the City Council Chambers at the Morton Civic Center.
Each of the committee members introduced themselves to the audience and shared what issues in the community they care most about.
Jude Foran, committee manager, grew up in the Sixth Ward and is a senior at ETHS. He told the audience that because of redlining, his ward was invested in more by the city and the Fifth Ward was disinvested.
“As a member of the Sixth Ward, I’d like to acknowledge our disproportionate success,” Foran said. “I’d like to call on my ward to reach out and help the Fifth Ward and share our success so that Evanston can be an equitable place.”
Many of the students on the committee cited the impact of redlining on the community today. They each learned about the 2022 Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs (EPLAN).
This year’s EPLAN took a different approach in comparison to years prior. The 2022 EPLAN analyzed the impact systemic factors have on an individual’s options. The EPLAN shows that the city’s disparities in health, income, environment and even literacy matches the 1935 redlining map, which segregated the city.
The city set aside $3 million for public projects that every resident 14 and up can have a say on. The city and Evanston Cradle to Career hosted several Data Walks to show how redlining impacts the community today, and this lesson really stuck with the students on the committee.
While the discussion covered housing, safety and mental health, the majority of YAC’s time was spent on safety, especially gun violence.
The students shared how scared they were last year when ETHS locked down because a few students brought in guns.
“We had no clue whether it was an active shooter,” Foran said. “We just saw cops coming with guns and assault rifles into our classes. It was really scary.”
Sachin Clark, a senior at ETHS, recommended that a program be created to help develop a relationship between students and the Evanston Police Department.
Another ETHS senior, Lila Kapinga-Muboyayi, talked about how important it is for students to feel safe while at school. One of her suggestions was to allow students to carry pepper spray. ETHS recently suspended a female student for bringing pepper spray to school. The school did that in 2019 as well.
“I think that they should allow students to have things for self defense, like they do not allow students to have pepper spray,” Kapinga-Muboyayi said. “But I think that we should have little things to protect ourselves because we are by ourselves at school and the majority of the time after we leave, too.”
The event drew state Senator Laura Fine, Chief of Police Schenita Stewart, Mayor Daniel Biss, members of the NAACP Evanston and many City Council members, including Devon Reid, 8th Ward; Bobby Burn, 5th Ward; and Krissie Harris, 2nd Ward.
Biss called the students’ words “real” and “persuasive.”
“I am so proud to know that you all are the leaders, not of the future, but the right now,” Harris said.