Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=215445
Story Retrieval Date: 12/5/2013 11:16:23 AM CST
Mayor Rahm Emaunel made it clear on Thursday that his tenure as mayor will be judged by whether his policies enhance the lives of young people in lower-income communities like West Englewood.
“The test of this city, the test for this mayor, and the test for all of us involved – because nobody gets a pass – is whether the kids at Harper, when they see downtown and they see the promise of this city, is whether in their eyes they can see themselves in the future of the city,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel was in West Englewood to announce an expansion of a mentoring program called Becoming A Man. BAM was founded by Anthony Ramirez-DiVittorio in 2001 and serves 600 boys spread across 17 schools. Emanuel has committed money to expand the program to 40 schools for the service of 2,000 teens. Many enrolled in the program come from homes without a male parent present.
“Becoming A Man is most specifically focused, obviously, on young adolescent men, who are higher propensity to both be a victim as well as a perpetrator of a crime. And therefore we’ve got to reach directly to them,” Emanuel said.
He estimated that between the expansion of this program, along with the expansions to summer jobs and after-school programs in general, Chicago would be able to reach 5,600 at-risk teens. Emanuel defined “at-risk” as youth most likely to become involved in gangs.
Ramriez-DiVittorio explained that he designed the program around six core values: integrity, accountability, self-determination, positive anger expression, respect for womanhood and visionary goal setting.
He highlighted positive anger expression as being particularly important to the program’s goal of curbing Chicago’s rampant gang violence.
“That’s been the biggest hit of the values when I see the boys later, because what they learn through this value is not anger management, not count to 10, not hold your breath and hold in your anger and repress it. But to normalize it,” Ramirez-DiVittorio said. “Let’s make choices to take that anger and be constructive with it.”
A study by the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab calculated that the program, which costs about $1,100 per participant, saves the city an estimated $3,600 per participant in its prevention of criminal behavior.
Ramirez-DiVittorio also emphasized that while the program is for young men it is anti-patriarchal. As a way of teaching the teens respect for women, they undertake an exercise in which they must ask women in their lives whether they have ever been degraded by men.
Arjay Howard, a sophomore at Harper and a member of the school’s chapter of Becoming A Man, introduced the mayor. Howard hopes to study acting and he credits the program with giving him the confidence to pursue this goal.
“Growing up I had this thing of being shy and talking to my peers and my mentor, Mr. Jackson, it just brought it right out of me,” Howard said.
Emanuel sat in with Howard’s mentoring group on Wednesday.
“He’s real cool,” Howard said. “He’ll always be cracking jokes. And he’s just like down-to-earth. He’s laid back.”
A reporter’s question about Emanuel’s brother Zeke’s memoir, “Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family,” resulted in the mayor joking that he plans to wait for the DVD.
Timothy Jackson mentors 60 students in Englewood, including Arjay. He joined the program in 2009.
“We hear a lot of people say someone needs to do something about this, someone needs to help the kids. And for a while I would just donate funds, but I just noticed how important it was that I stood up to the needs,” said Jackson, an Auburn-Gresham native.
The program contains many facets including math tutoring, a feature many students were reluctant to embrace at the outset, Jackson said.
“I was able to nudge them in the right direction, and now some of the same students that fought it are some of my best students in the math program,” he said.
Emanuel tied his support for Becoming A Man to other educational policies such as the creation of a longer school day and funding for early childhood education.
“Over the last 30 years our governments at many different levels pulled back from their support of children. So whether it’s a full school day, a full school year, early childhood education, eye care, after-school programs, rigorous academic standards, job training, this mayor is all in investing in kids,” Emanuel said.
The lengthened school day has drawn criticism from the Chicago Teachers Union, which alleges that the increase in school hours has occurred without an increase in funding and resources, and therefore does not improve students’ education.