On Thursday, February 13, 2020, the NBA Youth Leadership Council, which consists of 20 high school students from five different disadvantaged neighborhoods, in partnership with the Chicago Bulls, After School Matters, Chicago CRED, NBA players and legends, and Youth Guidance, convened downtown at the After School Matters Gallery, as Chicago prepares for the tip-off of NBA All-Star Weekend. The roster included Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who led the panel along with former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, athletes such as Mugsy Bogues and Zach Levine, and many civic leaders. Together with the Youth Leadership Council, they addressed issues facing today’s youth, challenges impacting their neighborhoods, and their vision for change.
A few of the issues that were discussed among the panel were gun and gang violence, high levels of poverty, lack of trust between young people of color and law enforcement, and lack of resources for young people. During a spoken word performance and individual presentations of each neighborhood’s projects, the issue of adolescent mental health was prevalent. The Austin & North Lawndale youth council members project “A Healthier Out-West,” is focused on helping young people in their neighborhoods who quietly deal with the impact of trauma in their everyday lives. Youth council members from West Humboldt Park project “We Over Me” use basketball as a tool to bring people together for fun on the court and therapeutic group conversations off the court. On the role of how youth organizations can reduce the stigma of seeking care, After School Matters CEO, Mary Ellen Caron affirms, “We work very hard at social, emotional learning (SEL) with our instructors to teach young people coping methods that they can use while trying to process their emotions.”
The Youth Leadership Council hopes that their experiences, perspectives, and voices empower other young people of color in their communities and that they are not left out of conversations amongst leaders and officials. Youth Council Leader Kenneth Mazerat sums up the evening and the event’s purpose perfectly. “We want to raise our community as a whole, and nourish the environment that we live in so it can become a better place to live for everyone.”
Contributing Writers: Kelly Washington and Anthony Ellis McGee
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