“Talk it Out! Youth Engaging with Law Enforcement” is a unique pilot program of the 27th Street West Drug Free Coalition designed to give youth in the 53208 zip code (an area that includes Washington Park, Cold Spring Park, and Historic Concordia among others) the opportunity to command a conversation with local law enforcement in an intimate setting about concerns in their communities and their central involvement in creating positive change in the areas in which they live – a conversation that affects them and involves them, but that so often does not include them. Designed by youth, run by youth, and made for youth – this event hopes to be a pivoting point in creating stronger, more positive relationships between youth and law enforcement.
On May 5th students from five local youth-serving agencies including Neighborhood House, Our Next Generation, the Boys and Girls Club, the Hmong American Friendship Association, and Westside Academy II will join together at the Washington Park Library with five officers from Police District 3 to discuss three questions developed by two senior members of the Coalition’s Youth Council: “What are some of the strengths and challenges of this community?” “How can youth be leaders in solving some of these problems and challenges?” and “What are police and youth relationships like in the community? What are some ways we can make them stronger?”
Youth and police will discuss these questions in small roundtable groups of 10 (9 youth: 1 officer) using a peace circle format (i.e. a “talking piece” allows its holder to speak while all others must remain respectfully silent and listen) while a youth chosen by his or her peers facilitates the table discussions. Once each group has fully discussed the three universal questions, they have a separate allotted amount of time to ask the officer at their table their own additional questions as they relate to their community, youth community participation and leadership, and youth-police relationships. At the end of the question and answer period, the two event facilitators – both high school students and active members of the Coalition’s Youth Council – will ask each group to report back on the question, “How can we make police and youth relationships in the community stronger?” and will guide a reflection exercise involving both law enforcement and youth. The responses to these questions will help serve as a directional guide for future projects and community initiatives between youth and law enforcement, projects and initiatives that will hopefully help repair and mend current broken relationships between police and residents in the community and – with time – replace them with ones of trust and support.
Aside from giving youth and law enforcement an opportunity to connect on an interpersonal and humanizing level, “Talk it Out! Youth Engaging with Law Enforcement” empowers the youth in today’s age to speak up, stand up as leaders, and become involved in the decision making processes that affect them and their environments, too. The 27th Street West Drug Free Coalition aims to make this only the first of such opportunities.
The mission of the 27th Street West Drug Free Coalition is to decrease drug and alcohol use among youth and their families by focusing on environmental factors that influence youth to drink and use drugs and by offering positive alternative activities for youth to engage in. The Coalition recognizes that youth play a central part in this process and can be leaders within their communities, which is why the Coalition supports a Youth Council: a group of middle and high school students that are an integral part of the Coalition and its efforts.