My name is Louis Blake and I am part of the Infrastructure Program. This program has provided a safe haven for me, by keeping me off of the streets and supplying me with the belief that I can be someone. Coming from a broken household, I struggled with my anger. This caused problems between my parents and I, and they felt as if they couldn’t handle me; I was literally left alone, homeless and having to fend for myself. Children’s Home and Aid Services helped me repair my relationship with my mother and I was able to move back in with her. The new stability in my home life encouraged me to find security in other areas. One Summer Chicago gave me that, and I now have a source of income and new friends that have similar goals and aspirations as me.
Aleeca McDuffy – ABC Daycare
My name is Aleeca McDuffy. I am from the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago. My community is very divided, it feels like the line where the rich meet the poor. If you walk four blocks west there are big, beautiful homes and you can see children playing on the front lawn. But if you walk towards the area known as “the jungle” then you see dilapidated apartments. Living in the area I do has shaped what I envision my future being. I want to go into law and one day become a judge and have the power to change neighborhoods like mine. I want to make a big impact like Martin Luther King and change the way people see each other. I think working with children is a great way to accomplish that. This One Summer Chicago Program has shown me that it is possible to relate to people that come from different places and even speak different languages.
Amanda Mala – ABC Daycare
My name is Amanda Mala and I work at ABC Daycare. I work with toddlers in the program and I enjoy learning how to interact with children through working at ABC. I want to become a pediatric doctor, and working at ABC is helping me prepare for that. My parents have told me that I need to work on my patience, and this job has given me a perfect opportunity to do so. Working with such young kids has taught me to anticipate what they need and to speak up for them. I have taken that and implemented it into my everyday life. When I see something wrong or witness a moment of injustice, I now feel confident enough to speak my mind. One Summer Chicago has helped me grow up in a matter of weeks.
Marquita Adams – Options for Youth
My name is Marquita Adams. I was raised in the Lawndale area of Chicago, IL. My mother is my rock. She has been there for me no matter what, and when I became a teen mom she encouraged me to stay in school and graduate. I graduated at the top of my class, and I was excited to see what the future held, not only for me but for my son as well. My mentor in Options for Youth program at Simpson Academy shows me that I should go away to school and focus on building a foundation for my new family. I am now 23 years old and a graduate from Southern Illinois-Carbondale with a degree in criminal justice. I plan to go back to school and get my masters [sic] degree in social work. I do all of these things to be a role model for others, including my son, and to show them that it is possible to be successful no matter what your circumstances are.
Kira Pitts – Green Corps
My name is Kira Pitts and I am a 17 year old rising senior at Bowen high school on the southside of Chicago. In my free time I play softball and study at school with my friends. I think it is important for teens in my generation to stay active to make sure they are on the right path. My brother was murdered almost 2 years ago over a petty disagreement. When he passed, he left behind a young son and a grieving family that has to learn what life is like without him. One Summer Chicago has been important to me because it provided me with the support I needed to help me mourn my brother’s death. I wish that there were more programs like this around the city and throughout the year for more teens, because they keep us active and productive. If there were more programs like One Summer Chicago, violence rates would be lower and teens would be more motivated to do better.
Lauryn Jackson – True Star Multi-Media
My name is Lauryn Jackson and I am one of three children. Being the middle child has shaped me into who I am. At times I struggled with finding my “fit” in my family, which caused me to alienate myself. Over the course of these past several years, I have learned the importance of using my voice and being heard. One Summer Chicago has provided me with the encouragement and support as I got over my fear of speaking up. I now am able to confidently voice my opinion without fear of judgement. In the future I hope that I’ll be able to provide others with that One Summer Chicago has provided me; confidence, intelligence, and the belief that anything is possible with the right mindset and work ethic.
Charles Brown – Teen Health Initiative
My name is Charles Brown and I am part of the Teen Health Initiative program. I come from the Chatham neighborhood in the southside of Chicago. My neighborhood has been affected by crime and violence, and I have to be cautious when coming and going from my house. Violence in the city is a big reason I decided to apply for the One Summer Chicago program. I have always been interested in encouraging youth to be more educated on the world around them. With this program, I get to practice that everyday. I inform my peers about mental health and work to alter the stigma associated with it. This program has helped me see that I want to improve communities like mine, by using the skills that the Teen Health Initiative has taught me.
Courtney Twyman – Green Corps
My name is Courtney Twyman and I live in the Bronzeville neighborhood on the southside of Chicago. For a long time I did not realize that I had been living my life confined in my neighborhood. One Summer Chicago opened my eyes to how beautiful this city is. I have lives in Chicago my whole life, but until joining Green Corps, I had never been to the beach. My idea of the city was limited to my neighborhood and the area around my high school, the Chicago High School for the Arts. The program introduced me to things I had never thought I would be interested in before, like gardening and caring for plants. I want to thank the people who made this program possible and I look forward to working in it again next year.
Daja Vivians – Infrastructure Program
My name is Daja Vivians and I am a mother of one. My daughter Jada is my world. She inspired me to change my life after going through the traumatizing experience of losing my first child. When I was pregnant, I felt as if I had nobody to turn to, until I became heavily involved in my church. After searching for activities to enrich my life, I learned about the One Summer Chicago program. I felt that it was the right fit for me because it provided me with opportunities that I couldn’t get elsewhere. As one of the oldest in the program at 20-years old, I feel for those younger than me. I know that children in Chicago are easily deprived of support that can help them reach their full potential. Without this program I wouldn’t be the great mother and amazing role model that I am now for my daughter. I hope that my story inspires others.
Dejanay Brooks – Green Corps
My name is Dejanay Brooks and I am a 15 year-old sophomore attending Kenwood Academy, where my program, Green Corps, is located. We bike, plant crops, and on Fridays, we learn financial literacy. We have learned about the importance of a savings account and how to build a resume. Growing up on the southside of Chicago, violence has taken very close people away from me. My programs [sic] is uplifting, and it keeps me busy. I hope to be working with this program again in the near future. I enjoy writing and I hope to pursue a career as a lawyer. One Summer Chicago has given me an opportunity to jump start my ideal career.
Understanding how to productively discuss controversial topics and learning to appreciate others’ perspectives, even if they are different than yours, is a key ingredient in building a stronger democracy. And America's classrooms is the perfect setting to begin developing these skills.
And here is why: students enter school with surprisingly heterogeneous views, even in deep red or blue areas. This coupled with the fact they are being taught by educators with the training (or at least the potential) to facilitate difficult political conversations across various ideologies and beliefs. Learning these practices will not only illustrate that thinking differently is not wrong or bad, but may demystify conflicting beliefs and help students to approach those issues with greater objectivity.
Many issues have local resonance and are often less ideological than those that play out on the state or national stage. Politics is a game of addition, and policy making often requires the building of bipartisan majorities across legislative bodies and branches of government.
Civic education is bigger than red-blue, urban-suburban-rural divides. It is about the future of our democracy. Local context considered, best practices remain central to youth civic development and must be offered universally. Illinois' civic health may be on life support, but the prognosis for its long-term recovery is strong thanks to the fruits of the #CivicsIsBack Campaign.