Rally urges action on jobs, education

CHICAGO – Stephen Parker, 19, was shot and killed by an unknown assailant while walking through his Uptown neighborhood Nov. 20. A student at Prologue Alternative School and aspiring rapper, Parker had organized students to protest in Washington, D.C., against the Iraq war and was slated to give the valedictory address at graduation.

In his memory, a group of Parker’s friends joined hundreds of youth and their supporters at a Federal Plaza rally on Nov. 25 demanding urgent action on the crisis facing the 5.5 million youth in the United States between the ages of 16-24 who are either out of work or out of school. This number includes 250,000 in New York and 100,000 each in Chicago and Los Angeles. Seventy percent of these youth are African American or Latino.

“We need more money for education and after school programs,” said two of Parker’s friends, Eric and Paul, both 17 years old. Parker was one of a growing number of youth murdered this year on Chicago streets.

The rally, initiated by Rainbow PUSH Coalition, NAACP, the Urban League, religious leaders and elected officials, demanded that Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. Rod Blagojevich issue a state of emergency and called for “first class schools and jobs, not first class prisons.” Speakers urged action to change the Bush policies of military spending and tax breaks for the rich.

Democratic presidential candidate Carol Mosley Braun appealed for an all-out effort to defeat Bush in 2004. “Send him back to Crawford, Texas. We want our country back. Reject their tricks. They are lying to the American people about Iraq and the economy.”

The Illinois State Board of Education said that 20 percent of African American students and 25 percent of African American males had been “pushed out” of Chicago schools last year.

According to the Justice Department, 6.6 percent of all Americans, 11 percent of men, and 32 percent of African American men will end up in prison. African American men in their early 30s are nearly twice as likely to have prison records (22 percent) than university degrees (12 percent).

“I have been looking for jobs,” said Marquis Vinson, 18. “I can’t get one. Everywhere they say you need to work to get the jobs.” Without jobs, many minority youth are forced into military service. Fifty percent of the soldiers in Iraq are Black or Latino.

State Rep. Constance Howard (D-Chicago) termed the situation an emergency and announced that 70 elected officials had joined together to lobby for more state and federal funds for job creation and job training centers, not jails. It is estimated to cost $40,000 to incarcerate and $10,000 to educate the same person.

“No jobs, no justice. No jobs, no peace,” declared Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.). “We can send money to Iraq, but nothing is left for Englewood, Lawndale, South Chicago or Humboldt Park. Bring the troops home and create jobs.” Davis called for Roosevelt New Deal-style public works jobs program. PUSH Rainbow Coalition is urging that $15 billion be targeted for jobs and education.

Alderman Joe Moore blasted the $1.3 billion in city taxes that are going to fund the occupation of Iraq. “This money could be spent to create jobs, education, and health care. We must fight for new priorities and a new agenda.”

“We all share the sense of urgency,” said U.S. Senate candidate Barak Obama, who appealed for greater unity to address the crisis. “Fifty percent unemployment is unacceptable. $87 billion in Iraq and not here is unacceptable. Let’s act together.”

The author can be reached at jbachtell@rednet.org.