NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Chants for youth jobs reverberated throughout downtown on Nov. 2 as over 200 youth marched with adult supporters and police escort through the streets to the Amistad Statue at City Hall where they were greeted by elected officials. As cars honked in solidarity the marchers cheered back in response.
The young people, mainly high school students who organized the event, marched in front, holding pictures of the 29 youth in New Haven killed by violence this year. Before the march, a candlelight vigil on the steps of the First and Summerfield Methodist Church highlighted the crisis of youth unemployment and honored the youth whose lives have been lost. Participants were deeply affected as each name was called and a candle was lit.
Rev. Scott Marks ended the vigil by calling for applause in celebration of the lives that were cut short. With the youth in front, wearing the names of those who were killed and carrying colorful hand painted posters demanding jobs for a better life, the march to City Hall began.
The march was organized by the New Elm City Dream, a network of youth, community organizations and unions which formed on September 24 at a youth jobs roundtable held at the New Haven Peoples Center.
The youth decided to meet weekly. They collected over 650 signatures to support the provisions of President Obama's American Jobs Act now being blocked by Republicans in the U.S. Senate, and the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois.
"This is not just a movement for a new dream for New Haven, this is a movement for a new dream for the country," said youth organizer David White.
Among those marching in support of the youth were members of the unions at Yale, participants in Occupy New Haven, and the principal of Hillhouse High School who praised his students for their action and involvement.
"I believe that our cry for youth jobs, jobs for all, and economic justice will not be ignored. I believe that by putting all generations of people to work there will be less violence, and a better economy in New Haven," Joseph Stoudmire Jr., a first year college student and member of the YCL and New Elm City Dream, told the crowd to cheers.
Pointing to the Amistad Statue behind him, he got loud applause when he likened the freedom struggle of the Amistad captives to the struggle for freedom today.
"We're losing friends. We're losing our peers," said emcee and high school student Capria Marks, representing the New Elm City Dream. "We decided to step up and say enough is enough. It's time for a change."
Sophomore David Elkin-Genetti spoke about the commitment of Occupy and NECD to create a better world.
Following these powerful youth testimonies, the petitions were presented to Mayor John DeStefano, representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and Alderman Sergio Rodriguez who had delivered a letter from the youth to President Barack Obama at the White House the previous week.
The New Haven Board of Aldermen passed a resolution initiated by Alderwoman Dolores Colon in support of the American Jobs Act and jobs for youth at their meeting on Oct. 24. Colon praised the young people for their involvement to stop more deaths of their friends.
The New Elm City Dream's goal is to bring young people, community organizations, elected officials, labor, and others together to advocate for national legislation and local action that will create jobs for youth and jobs for all.
"When life is less than perfect, it's exciting to see anyone trying to make a change, especially young people," said Mary Hall who spoke about why she was inspired to become involved.
In closing out the rally, Pastor Abraham Hernandez raised his voice that not one more violent death occur in New Haven. Participants held hands as they sang "This Little Light of Mine."
The recession has led to extreme hardship in urban communities like New Haven. In July, the national youth employment rate was 48.8 percent, the lowest rate on record since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking this number in 1948.
In 2011, New Haven's, Youth At Work program was able to provide only half the summer jobs as it did in 2010. At the same time, 29 of New Haven's young people lost their lives this year in incidents of gun violence, which might have been prevented if more young people had opportunities to work and to devote themselves to positive activities.
The resolution by the Board of Aldermen discusses poverty, homicides and incarceration of youth in New Haven and points to the American Jobs Act, which would create 5,200 youth jobs in Connecticut. The Aldermen resolved "to call on Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sens. Lieberman and Blumenthal to prioritize immediate passage of all of the provisions of the American Jobs Act and other jobs creation legislation to meet the needs of the youth and families of our city, state and nation."
The American Jobs Act would create jobs for youth and adults in Connecticut in the following areas:
- 5,300 Jobs: Conn. highways, transit, rail, and aviation
- 3,800 Jobs: reverse local layoffs of teachers, government workers
- 2,400 Jobs: improve classrooms and upgrade Conn. schools
- 650 Jobs: revitalize and refurbish foreclosed properties
- 5,200 youth jobs + 1,300 Adult Jobs: Pathways Back to Work Program
- $38,000,000 in funding next fiscal year for Conn. community colleges
- Extension of Unemployment Insurance for up to 60,000 during 2012
- Extend the payroll tax cuts for low income workers
- Hiring incentives for small businesses, including tax cuts
Paid for by restoring taxes on millionaires and closing tax loopholes.
Photo: Members of New Elm City Dream remember friends and classmates killed by violence this year, at vigil before the youth march for jobs. Art Perlo/PW