City Hall Rally Calls to Restore Funding for Youth Summer Jobs
BOSTON/City Hall - With federal stimulus funding for youth summer jobs off the table in the wake of a failed U.S. Senate vote earlier this month, over 200 Boston teenagers attended a rally for youth jobs on Tuesday called by City Councilor Felix Arroyo and several community organizations - including Teen Empowerment, Hyde Square Task Force, Project RIGHT, Project HIP-HOP, Maverick Landing, Reflect and Strengthen, and Medicine Wheel. Arroyo, chair of the City Council's Committee on Labor, Youth Affairs and Human Rights, invited the young people to the rally and the committee hearing that followed to drum up public support for finding money to fund the estimated 2000 youth summer jobs that are on the chopping block.
In his remarks to the rally inside the City Hall Atrium, Arroyo said, "Welcome to City Hall. This is as much your building as it is mine. In fact, it's probably more yours since you guys pay me to do my job. I'm here today, not only as the chair of the committee where I hope every single one of you files right up to that hearing that we're about to have on summer jobs. And I'm proud to be a champion on youth issues. I ran on that as a candidate. I've met with many of you as part of the youth forum you guys put together to talk about youth issues. And here at City Hall I can tell you that me along with my colleagues here on the council are doing everything we can to make sure that we restore every single job that was there last year. And we're going to work for some more. With your help we can make that happen, but it doesn't happen by wishing it so. Right now I'm talking to the choir. You're all here because you know how important being active and being heard is. And so I'm asking all of you here to now mention to your friends at school that your parents your guardians and your grandparents whoever's raising you understands the importance of being active. And calling in to the council and making sure they know how much this matters. Frankly, we're here because you matter."
Councilor Chuck Turner spoke next, pointing out that many young people need jobs year round, "We understand that the power to have our needs recognized and dealt with by the city or by any governmental or outside group depends on our organizing, making our concerns known, and then backing it up with the kind of strength that we see hear today. So I'm proud of the work that Felix is doing, but I'm equally proud of the work that you're doing. And so I'm here to say that I'm here to support your drive for fairness and equity in terms of the distribution of the resources that the city has, and I believe that if we stick together we can in fact continue to increase the resources that we have for summer jobs. I think that one day this city should have a policy that every youth - every youth between the ages of 14 and 18 - who wants a job, ought to be able to have a job in the summer. And then we need to work bring jobs during the rest of the year."
Councilor Ayanna Pressley followed up, saying, "We're here to demonstrate our support - and never forget that support is a verb. It is an action. And that's why we're all here today. We all can say that the children are our future, and that's true. But we have an obligation and a responsibility to you in the here and now. An urgent need in order to ensure that you have the best future possible. It's been said that a vision without resources is a hallucination, and so we want to make sure you have the resources necessary to fulfill each and every one of your visions. So I want to thank you for your activism,and again Councilor Arroyo for you leadership, and I'm proud to be with you hear today."
Josenia Perez, who recently worked a summer job through Action for Boston Community Development, then discussed how the summer jobs program had improved her life, "Before I came to ABCD, I didn't have a job. Now I work at a hospital - Beth Israel. I'm going to be able to go to school to be a medical interpreter. They're going to help me pay for school. I'm also going to school to be a home health care [aide] too. So just having the money for ABCD will help you and open a lot of doors for you guys."
The crowd was entertained by hip-hop stylist Lady Enchantress - a member of the Reflect and Strengthen collective - who performed a song together with a human beatbox named Jared that answered her call for a volunteer to perform that service.
Following the rally, the entire group walked upstairs to the council chamber for a hearing on summer jobs for youth in front of Arroyo's committee. Several experts from the City of Boston and local youth agencies testified to Councilors Arroyo, Pressley, Turner and Charles Yancey about the nature of the youth jobs crisis and possible solutions. The committee then invited testimony from the audience.
A number of young people and advocates spoke next, including George Lee - a youth worker with Project HIP-HOP and the South End/Lower Roxbury Youth Workers' Alliance, "I've been an outreach worker and youth worker in Boston since 2000. Let's be clear. We're facing a crisis this summer. State funding is cut in half and there's no federal stimulus funds for youth jobs. We're facing a loss of up to 2000 youth jobs. Let's also be clear, we've been facing a crisis since the early 2000s. Those 2000 jobs are on top of another 2000 Boston Youth Fund jobs we already lost when the city cut its funding in half back in 2002 and 2003. We can't let this happen again. We need more jobs, not less."
Lee concluded by pointing out several ways that necessary funding for youth jobs could be found this year, including tapping the city's rainy day fund. He mentioned that the police and fire departments have gone several million dollars over budget during each of the last few fiscal years, and that the amount needed to fund youth jobs this year would be much less.
The hearing ended with calls from all quarters to find the needed funding for youth summer jobs before it was too late.