By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Kebon Williams, 17, has seen plenty of violence in Parkway Gardens. Though he talks to his father occasionally, his mother is raising eight children there alone. Kebon has lived at Parkway Gardens his entire life.
Life at the struggling complex in Woodlawn can be rough at times. Murders and shootings have become a dangerous aspect of social life at Parkway Gardens. But a summer program once offered to younger boys and girls is expanding this year to include youths like Kebon.
It’s good news for Kebon and dozens of single mothers who struggle to find safe things for their children to do as gun violence climbs, and as the weather heats up while Chicago prepares for the summer season.
Articulate, well-mannered and ambitious, Kebon is excited about summer. He was among 35 youths who on Tuesday, May 16, offered suggestions as they made plans for this year’s summer program at Parkway Gardens.
Program founder, Chicago police officer Jennifer Maddox, said the meeting was a meet and greet event that helped program coordinators and Parkway Gardens managers learn about the needs of the participants.
“It’s not always what we want to do, but what they want to do,” Maddox said. “When we let them create events, then they will most likely stick to it all the way through.”
For the first time at the complex, the program will include 17 to 18-year-olds as part of an expanded, seven-week paid summer program at Parkway Gardens.
The program is sponsored by One Summer Chicago, a massive summer program that employs thousands of teenagers throughout Chicago. This year, over 31,000 teenagers and young adults will be employed in a variety of jobs, from lifeguarding to camp counselors. The deadline to apply expired Monday, May 15 after over 77,000 people submitted applications for jobs.
With retailers hiring less and the summer job market for young adults still weak, the job outlook for Black youth remains a concern.
Kebon and other young people at Parkway Gardens are among the fortunate. Kebon’s sister will work at Navy Pier this summer. And unlike most One Summer Chicago participants, Kebon and other youth at Parkway Gardens won’t have to struggle finding transportation to get to their jobs. For four hours a day, five days a week, they will work in various positions, participate in workshops and learn valuable job skills at the community center, just steps away from their homes at Parkway Gardens.
They will also go on field trips to some of Chicago’s most popular attractions. On top of all this, they will be paid for a 20-hour workweek, which translates into a biweekly 40-hour pay period.
The summer program starts June 26, but excitement was in the air at Parkway Gardens as teenagers broke out into brainstorming groups to discuss ideas on what field trips, workshops and other activities they wanted to participate in. Participants will also receive professional advice on fashion, proper etiquette and social skills from Sa’Rah Valentine, a founder of Swag the Runway, a non-profit organization that aims to build self-esteem among youth ages 4 to 17.
According to Valentine “Fashion is about how young people carry them- selves. There’s a way to speak to their friends and a way not to speak to their friends. The way you speak and carry yourself goes a long way.”
Some of the most popular ideas for field trips were Six Flags Great America, going to the beach, skating and bowling.
“I felt like it was fun,” said Kebon, who participated in the program last year.
Kebon said he wants to spend his summer working out, playing basketball, swimming and going to the beach.
Another participant Mikala Barner, 17, is happy the program will provide a safe environment.
“I want to just get out and enjoy myself and stay out of trouble” she said.
The program will not be just fun and games, according to founder Maddox, who during the school year runs the Parkway Gardens after school program, Future Ties.
Maddox said students learn life and job skills through special workshops. They will also learn CPR skills and will have the opportunity to become certified during the summer program. Participants will also create a resume and practice job interviewing skills.
At Tuesday’s orientation, Maddox got tough on things teenagers love: cell phones. Before they begin their four-hour shift, participants must put away their cell phones in a lock box, a requirement Maddox implemented in the program to promote a professional work ethic. Though 35 youngsters attended Tuesday’s meeting, Maddox said her program will accommodate 50 participants this year.