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Nonviolence Meeting Brings Hundreds After Dajae Coleman's Death

Attendees at a meeting convened by Mayor Tisdahl suggested ways to prevent another tragedy, including mentoring, jobs for young adults, a teen center, more street lights and safer transportation options.

An overflow crowd packed the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center Tuesday night to brainstorm ways of preventing violence in Evanston after the shooting death of 14-year-old Dajae Coleman. 

“We need to, each one of us, commit to doing something in this community,” said Mayor Tisdahl, who organized the meeting. “The kids are watching.”

Organizers said they set up 250 seats for attendees, but the crowd spilled into the entryway to the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center auditorium and over into the basketball courts nearby, where dozens of people sat on the floor or on the bleachers.

After words from the mayor, Ald. Delores Holmes (5th Ward), and other local officials, attendees met in small groups to discuss ideas for engaging kids ages 13 to 25 and for preventing violence. After an hour of animated conversation, they reported back to the group as a whole. Their suggestions ranged from simple, technical solutions, like adding more streetlights, to big ideas like the creation of new nonprofit organizations. 

One Evanston Township High School sophomore said she would like to see a teen center created by and for teenagers. It should be a place where young people could make art projects or play sports, not simply do homework. 

“Who knows what’s better for us than us?” she said. 

Dajae Coleman: The Story So Far

Another participant said she wanted to fill the empty buildings across from the high school on Church Street with local nonprofits like Y.O.U., Restorative Justice or the James B. Moran Center For Youth Advocacy, “so when you exit the high school, there is something for you to do right there.” 

Many groups talked about the need for more mentors in Evanston, an idea that also came up at Monday night’s public conversation at the McGaw YMCA.   

“I think we don’t have a strong mentor program in town,” said social worker Geri Helfand. Among those local organizations that do have mentor programs—like the Y—most have very long waiting lists, she said.

One idea for increasing the number of mentors is already underway, according to Kathy Lyons, senior staff attorney at the James B. Moran Center. Lyons said the Evanston Community Foundation had recently approved funding for a new umbrella organization called Evanston Mentors. The nonprofit will survey mentor programs in town to identify which organizations have them and put together a website directing volunteers to places they can mentor. It will also work to retain and recruit more volunteers, Lyons said. 

“It lightens your load as a parent if you know your kid has someone to be there with them,” she said. 

Other participants said jobs were just as important as programs for kids ages 18 to 25. Some said the city government should provide incentives for local businesses to hire Evanston youth, while others said the city could at least provide job training. 

Listening to the youth task force she meets with regularly, Mayor Tisdahl said that jobs were a request she’d heard often heard from them directly. 

“I offered midnight basketball,” she said. “They said, ‘We want jobs.’” 

To that end, the city has just launched a pilot program called “Building Career Pathways to Sustainable Employment,” which will provide 15 low- and middle-income Evanston young adults with subsidized wages and job training from local employers.

From a nuts and bolts perspective, several groups talked about the need to improve transportation options for teenagers. Evanston Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said that when the city expands services for young people and no one shows up, it’s often because they don’t have good transportation options. 

“We need to expand transportation,” he said. 

Improved transportation should include safe rides to and from parties, participants said—something that can easily be done on a volunteer basis among parents. 

Many people also said police could do a better job of walking around problem areas, rather than driving the streets in cruisers. Local parent Karen Maxwell suggested “safety officers,” who would go out on the streets and get to know kids. 

Speaking to Patch after the meeting, Mayor Tisdahl said she and city officials would gather the suggestions made to determine the major themes, then see which ones could be implemented. Tisdahl said she would also be meeting with students at the high school and her youth committee soon. 

“I’m going to listen to the kids before we decide on any course of action,” she said. 

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Neal H Levin October 04, 2012 at 02:03 PM
While I certainly agree with many of the sentiments being raised here, we mush also understand how difficult a task it is to walk into someone's home and tell the parents that they are doing a bad job. How do you change parenting? What right do we have to do so? I believe that part of the solution is through modeling, access to healthy parenting resources and a more community-centric education platform that proactively models good values as well as offers and teaches life skills as opposed to just that intended to score high on an antiquated achievement test. While these solutions can't substitute for good parenting, I believe that the net effect will be parents who are better informed, educated and skilled in being parents as well as a community that re-takes hold of and accountability for itself.
Festus McMoron October 05, 2012 at 12:39 PM
i agree 110% with all responses who point the finger at parenting and it all starts in the home. what responsible parent would let their son walk around with his pants down around his kness? can someone please tell me why they do this? do these males enjoy looking like idiots? why aren't male role models in their community going up to them and yanking them up by their pants and tell them to look presentable. it disgust me to see these kids walk down my street. and one thing leads to another. we let political correctiveness go way to far and now look what we're stuck with. totally sad.
ETHS Mom October 05, 2012 at 05:45 PM
I've been thinking a lot, an awful lot, about Dajae Coleman's death, about the soul searching in Evanston, about the search for community-based solutions to violence, about the apparent reluctance to condemn Wesley Woodson, his accused killer. As a lawyer, I understand the importance of making the state prove its case. But, assuming that Woodson did what he's accused of, I think it's okay, even necessary, for the community to condemn him. Not to death. I don't believe in the death penalty. It doesn't deter crime and it makes all of us accomplices in the taking of human life. I want no part of that. I don't believe in the death penalty, but Wesley Woodson does. Wesley Woodson exacted the ultimate penalty on someone he thought might have beaten up his cousin. I don't feel like trying to understand Wesley Woodson or how he could so carelessly kill a 14-year-old boy. For having taken another young man from his family, his friends, his community, from the world, Wesley Woodson doesn't deserve our sympathy or understanding. Let anyone else who might feel tempted to exact the ultimate penalty see what happens if he does so. Losing our support and understanding is the least that he can suffer. As a community, we owe it to Dajae to unapologetically condemn the perpetrator of this unforgivable act.
Dan Cox October 23, 2012 at 11:33 PM
I attended the Meeting and was badgered and threatened by an Off Duty Police Officer, for commenting that Evanston needs to have Gun Safety Training for Young Children and Gun Law Training for Teenagers. I did meet some nice people, but our comment's were omitted from the dialog. What is the reason for this imbalanced perspective on Gun's by Evanston? Teaching children safety should not be a threatening thing. I contacted the Evanston Chief of Police and he took care of the matter. I am still trying to get support in Evanston for a Gun Safety Training Program in Evanston. It is a simple program, designed to teach Pre-k thru 3rd Grade about what to do, if you find a Gun. 1. STOP, 2. DON"T TOUCH, 3. LEAVE THE AREA, 4. TELL AN ADULT, WHAT YOU FOUND. The Teenager Program would teach about the Gun Law's, that are in effect in Illinois. Many people do not know that it is a Class 4 Felony, to be in possession of a Gun, if you do not have a FOID Card. It is a Felony to be in possession of a Loaded Gun outside of your Home, Illinois is the only State that does not have Concealed Carry. These are thing's that get a Kid a Felony Record and shape the rest of his/her life. We could help to stop some of the Violence by Education.
Sim Elwood November 01, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Why did the city council shoot down the idea of making the vacant recycling center into a youth sports facility? That was a cheap way to get more for our kids to do. http://evanston.patch.com/articles/why-does-the-city-need-an-indoor-sports-facility

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