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City bolsters summer job, recreation programs to fight gang violence

Updated: March 10, 2013 6:16AM

Seeking an end to the gang violence that claimed the life of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday pumped another $4.5 million into summer jobs, counseling and recreation programs to give 2,000 more “at-risk” teenagers a constructive alternative.

Nearly half the money will go to “Becoming A Man — A Sports Edition,” a program that uses a mix of counseling and Olympic sports to dramatically improve school attendance and arrests for violent crime.

With corporate funding and private fund-raising, Emanuel plans to triple support for B.A.M. The initiative was jointly developed by counselors from Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago, the legacy organization that evolved from Chicago’s losing bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

The remaining $2.5 million will go to Greencorps Chicago to create 600 summer jobs for at-risk students attending 15 Chicago Public high schools.

Last week, Emanuel responded to Pendleton’s death by shifting 200 Chicago Police officers from desk jobs to street duty and assigning them to “area saturation teams” focused on gang violence.

The surge of funding for jobs, counseling and recreational programs is another piece of a complicated puzzle that Chicago mayors have been trying to solve for decades.

Emanuel announced the plan in the library at Harper High School, 6520 S. Wood, in front of a handful of young men whose lives were turned around by the Becoming A Man program.

According to a study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab, there are 7,000 Chicago students who have missed over 40 days of school in neighborhoods with a homicide rate more than double the national average. That puts them at a much higher risk for violence involvement.

“Every one of these young men faced adversity….I admire each one of these young men because they could throw the towel in and be bitter. They could throw the towel in and be angry. They can choose another course that became violent,” the mayor said.

“Becoming A Man has given these kids a sense of values. They have now learned from their adversity how to channel it and strive for goals. And every one of ’em when we were sitting around in the circle talked about their dreams. While they had faced adversity, nobody said, ‘I’m not graduating’ or, ‘I’m not going to college.’ Nobody did not have a dream.”

When the mayor talked about overcoming adversity, he was talking about young men like 16-year-old Dontavious Smith.

“My brother died. He got shot on 63rd. It happened two years ago. He was a basketball star. It was kind of hard for me. We was real close,” Smith said.

“I just follow his dreams and play ball. He wanted to go to college. That’s for me to do, too.”

As for the B.A.M. program, Smith said, “It changed me. In the beginning of the year, I was kind of like a class clown and getting in trouble. When I got in this program, it helped me get my grades up, never give up. I got more mature. It put me on the right track. I was going the wrong way, doing the wrong things. It taught me how to do better.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last summer that a BAM program that attracted 800 students at Chicago Public Schools had resulted in a 44 percent drop in arrests for violent crime.

U of C crime lab researchers hailed the “almost miraculous change” among at-risk teens.

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