Local activist seeks to instill spirit of competition in West Side youth

With warmer weather approaching and schools gearing up for the final push towards summer break, many area high school and college students are searching for summer jobs. There use to be a time, not that long ago, when those jobs were readily available. However, today’s teens face a much more difficult time in their job search for a variety of reasons.

The Elephant in the room

To begin with, in today’s economic climate teenagers face stiff competition from unemployed adults seeking jobs that were once deemed “student jobs.” Believe it or not there are many college graduates working in retail and fast food chains. Urban teens also must fight the stigma of being dangerous, lazy, and unemployable. Then there’s the issue of globalization, which has sent thousands of jobs abroad in search of cheaper labor.

These subjects are usually not discussed while teens are in the room. However, these issues and others were the topic of conversation at a recent Youth Empowerment Summit held March 16 in the Austin community at Divine Stylez Hair Studio located at 5457 W. Madison.

The event was organized by Maurice J. Robinson, former candidate for Alderman of the 29th Ward and offered the youth in attendance not only words of advice, but solid leads on nearly 20 jobs from employers actively looking for workers, as well as resume and interviewing tips from an HR professional.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Mach of 2015, the unemployment rate held steady at 5.5% for the nation as a whole. For African-Americans that number nearly doubled to 10.1%, for teens it jumped to 17.5%. Various estimates have put the African-American teen unemployment rate between 40 – 50%.

Robinson says the idea sprung from an event he hosted a year ago in Austin, and that since that time he constantly hears people talking about how they need jobs, especially the youth. “To me unemployment is not only an economic issue but it’s also a social issue. It’s about how you dress, how you act, how you approach the job and a lot of these things we are less skilled in so I wanted to bring those things to the forefront.”

Tell it to the Judge

Robinson was able sway Judge Jackson of the 15th District Juvenile Court to participate in the event. Judge Jackson, a longtime Austin resident herself, spoke directly to the youth in a straight forward, but non-confrontational way. She was stern but yet she still showed concern and compassion for the youth in her community.

“You need to try to avoid showing up in my courtroom” Judge Jackson insisted to the 30 or so students sitting in attendance. She added, “It’s a good day as far as I’m concerned when I don’t see a bunch of young people show up in my court room. Because trust me, if you start showing up in judges court rooms and you are putting your foot on a slippery slope that you don’t want to be on.”

As the Judge spoke you could tell from the expression on the students’ faces that her words heavily impacted them. It was if their grandmother was speaking to them in   the living room. She touched on an array of topics relevant to West Side youth ranging from how you should dress on an interview to the over use of social media and how employers are able to access profiles and pages during the hiring process.

She added, “Despite the fact that juvenile records are suppose to be sealed, people can access all kinds of information about you on the internet. Partly because you all believe everyone in the world wants to know what you all are doing all the time, so you end up telling the world whatever you do through social media”

Having an Impact

Divine Stylez owner Kevin Johnson also grew up in Austin in the very area where his shop now stands. “I have walked the same path that so many of these youth are on today so I can definitely relate to their struggle of just trying to make it.” Johnson added, “It feels good to be able go give back to the community like this because a lot of youth just need direction and to know that somebody cares.”

In a follow up conversation after the event, Robinson echoed some of the same sentiments. “It’s sad that some of these students get to the point that they feel so depressed and hopeless but from some of the conversations I had, they now feel that someone actually cares about what happens to them.”

As you could tell from glancing around the shop the event was a huge success and Robinson says he plans to host similar events in the future. Where else would West Side teens get the opportunity to hear from a sitting Juvenile court Judge without being caught up in the juvenile justice system??? Way to go West Side!!


-By F.Latin