“Anywhere there’s people, there’s power.” ~ Fred Hampton, Black Panther Party leader and activist
Engaging in service-learning in the South Chicago community has allowed me to witness the similar challenges and strengths the neighborhood has with the communities I have grown up in and served in my home state of California. South Chicago has a rich tradition and history with the steel industry. The neighborhood’s economic disparity is partially due to the loss of the steel industry, thus contributing to South Chicago’s marginalization and endless resiliency. It has been a privilege for me to collaborate with Black and Brown community members in the South Side, people who are committed and passionate about improving their community, which goes against the common misconception that South Chicagoans are “lazy” or “don’t care” about the well-being of their neighborhood.
All of what I have witnessed and experienced while working in South Chicago is the infinite acts of love, hope, and healing, and how much community members strive to have others invest in improving South Chicago as well. Serving and learning in the South Side has also allowed our team to connect with the community organizations that were created by and for members of the South Chicago community. Most importantly, these community resources address bigger systemic issues that impact and perpetuate the unjust challenges South Chicago faces such as health disparities, community violence, and environmental toxicity.
Unfortunately, the lack of government funding has forced a variety of community organizations to end a variety of the programs that have served youth, an often overlooked and targeted population. I cannot help but wonder what the South Chicago community would look like if there were stronger networks built across community organizations who fundraise together for non-government funds instead of competing for financial support from the same sources? Ideally this would promote the community’s right to sustain itself and its right to self-determination without the need of outsider intervention. However, I digress.
Above all, working with young people who call South Chicago home has been the most transformative experience while living in Chicago. Although I have only recently begun working with young people, I have quickly learned that it is a justified journey to earn youth’s trust and respect. As a Latina who grew up in an urban city, I see so much of myself in the youth we are working with this year, allowing me to empathize with their struggles as youth who are doing the best they can with what they have in order to survive and thrive. Their bravery, intelligence, and resiliency are impeccable and unsurprising.
The most fulfilling part the last few weeks have been working with youth and witnessing their growth and leadership development. The agency our youth are exerting in our team has truly made me proud. The reality is that I have learned so much more from the youth I have worked with this summer than they have probably learned from me. They have taught me how to be a better adult ally that prioritizes their needs and wants above oppressive adults and systems that uphold the marginalization and silencing of youth, especially in spaces dominated by those that perpetuate inequitable systems of power. My journey as a Latina in academia developing my skills as an adult ally has reminded me that advocating for minoritized groups and communities will always be about solidarity.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” ~ Assata Shakur, former Black Panther Party member and revolutionary