In the wake of a January report on the dismal jobs landscape for young black males in Chicago —
92 percent are jobless — the Urban League teamed with actor/rapper Common and songwriter Che
“Rhymefest” Smith in an effort to create 1,000 year-round jobs. The partnership, which will include a
music festival fundraiser this summer, was spawned by feedback from teens at the end of annual
summer job programs such as One Summer Chicago, which Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced
would offer 22,000 youth jobs this summer. “Every year, we hold a hearing where young people in
the summer jobs programs come and talk about the impact the jobs had on their lives. But this year,
it highlighted another issue we just haven’t focused on,” said Andrea Zopp, president and and CEO
of the Urban League.
“And that was that their need for a job doesn’t end in September. They have needs to support their
families, take care of themselves. They want to work year-round. So in our community, we have to
focus on that topic,” Zopp said. According to the study, in 2012, 17 percent of black males ages 16
to 19 nationwide held jobs. That ratio was 12 percent in Illinois; and just 8 percent in Chicago. The
collaborative, which includes five other stalwart Chicago nonprofits, will work with the public and
private sector to secure year-round jobs for those 16 to 24. Launching with 1,000 jobs this September,
it hopes to add jobs yearly for the next four years, to impact 15,000 youths within five years.
An annual music festival will help raise money for the jobs effort and youth programs such as those
supported by Common’s Common Ground Foundation, and by rapper Kanye West’s charity, Donda’s
House, run by Rhymefest and his wife.
“Any time I hear of innocent people getting shot and killed and young people with guns, it hurts. I felt I
have to do more than just write songs about Chicago,” said Common, a k a Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.
“Obviously, one of the biggest reasons our kids are going through what they’re going through is because
of poverty. I was doing an event in the neighborhood and there were some kids from Englewood and I
said, ‘Man, what do y’all really need? What’s gonna stop this?’ And they were like, ‘We need money.
Man, if we could work.’ They want a chance.”
The inaugural AAHH! Fest fundraiser will be held Sept. 20-21 at 6300 S. Hayes Dr., featuring big-name
acts and Chicago youths performing and employed behind the scenes, said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th),
who has been involved in its planning for the last year.
Source: Chicago Sun Times