Says a record should be a stepping stone, not an excuse
~ By Chinta Strausberg~ Flanked by scores of unemployed youth each holding a copy of their resume, Father Michael L. Pfleger Monday held a press conference at the Saint Sabina Church calling on businesses to give young men and women a chance by hiring them and not use a record as an excuse to exclude them; rather let it be a stepping stone for their future.
“We have seen a decrease in violence in the city of Chicago and we’re glad by that; yet don’t be fooled the violence is still going on,” said Pfleger referring to the killings and shootings over the weekend where one person was killed and seven shot last Saturday night alone.
Referring to the Auburn Gresham community, Pfleger said since he began his peace basketball leagues and tournaments/GED classes last year, he was able to hire 1100 youth last summer at 187 work sites.
“We’ve seen a drastic drop (of violence) in this community,” he told reporters. Referring to several reports including one from the University of Chicago, Pfleger said “when people have jobs, when people have options, crime and violence go down.”
Thanking the police for their role in stemming the violence, Pfleger turned and looked at former street leaders, Brandon, Pat, Kirk and Juan thanking them for helping to keep the peace in the community. This was achieved when last year Pfleger brokered a peace accord last September among four rival gangs whose members are now called “peacemakers.” “Our team work out in the streets every day to try to keep violence down in the community.”
But, looking at the applicants who stood behind him, Pfleger also thanked them and others “who made a conscious decision to stop the violence and to help bring peace in our community to save our lives and save our community.”
Making it clear, Father Pfleger said the real long-term solution to ending violence is “about real opportunity…about transformation…about giving options. We cannot just tell young people don’t shoot, don’t sell drugs…and not give them things that they can do…. We can’t just keep saying it’s wrong and not give them things that are right.”
Referring to the applicants, Pfleger said “they are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers who want peace in the streets just as bad as anybody else in the city of Chicago but they need jobs to take care of themselves, their children and to help out with their families,” he said asking each to hold up their resumes.
“They want to work now. They want to be hired right now,” he said asking the private sector, the city, state, county and federal government to provide jobs for these youth.
Saying “it was a great thing” to be able to get city and state grants needed to hire 1100 young people this past summer, Pfleger said, “We’re grateful, but when the summer ends, all of a sudden there’s no job. Yet, he said, “They have responsibilities…rent… The responsibilities continue. We need year around jobs. Even a part-time job is better than no job. Give us something….”
“If you really want to help bring peace in Chicago, then give people an opportunity to get jobs…” so they can take care of themselves and their families. Pfleger said if companies don’t have jobs but are willing to send money to get them work, send the money to him and they will be hired.
Asked about companies who claim they can’t find qualified people who don’t have records, Pfleger said, “We do job preparation and job training…so they are prepared and they are ready…. I think when they say they can’t find qualified folks, I think more often that not, that is an excuse why they are not hiring anybody,” he said turning to the youth and asking them if they are qualified and ready to work.
And, as far as companies hesitate in hiring youth with criminal records, Pfleger bellowed, “This is 2013. Half of the people that work in corporations downtown have family members who have records and all the other folks who own businesses ought to have records but they got off.
“If you want to talk about records, the whole world is focused on Nelson Mandela. He has a record…27-years in the penitentiary because of treason. He was called by every country a terrorist and he became president (of South Africa) and now all the world is calling him great. A record ought not to be a stumbling block. It should be a stepping stone….”
For those who have a record and have paid for their crimes, Pfleger said, “Let them go free and go on with their future.”
What Chicago needs, Pfleger emphasized is that “we need help from people around the city to not just say stop the violence but we want people willing to do something about it by giving options and opportunities.
Pfleger said all of the applicants went through Saint Sabina’s job readiness program and they all want to work.
One of those looking for a job is Phillip McGhee, 26, who has been unemployed for a year. (DREADS) Jovon Fluker, 17, a senior at Percy Julian High School who has been unemployed for the past year, lives with his mother, a single parent, said, “We are all struggling…. I will do everything I can to help my mama. I really need to be employed,” he said noting even the expenses he has to incur just to graduate like his prom.
Vowing to go on to college, Fluker said, “I just need a job. If you can help out in the community, open up your doors to us and help us get jobs, that will be a plus for the whole community….”
McGhee says he wants to contribute to his household. “It’s hard out here.” He said his family is struggling. “I put in a lot of applications for jobs” but noted the high number of applicants also seeking employment he added, “It’s hard out here…. I need help. We have our applications…. I just want to keep my mind on positive things. If I’m not working, I’ll just go back to the old me but that is not me no more. I’m trying to do my thing out there…trying to stay on the right track. I’m right here with Father Pfleger and everything, doing the right thing trying to get me a job and keep my mind going right….”
Michael Davis, 21, also wants a job. A graduate from a St. Charles, Illinois high school, Davis said he is a father of a two-year-old son. “I’m trying to stay positive. I live on my own. I make sure that the bills are paid…and that my son gets the things I never had.”
Admitting he is getting frustrated, Davis said he constantly gets laid off temporary jobs due to the lack of funding. “Just give us a chance,” he said appealing to corporations to hire them.
When asked why doesn’t some corporations don’t want to hire young black men, said, “because of where they come from. I believe it is a stereotype that we won’t work or show up on time and they are not willing to take a chance. Everyone deserves a chance to show who and what they are,” he told reporters.
Pfleger said to companies, “Help them get a chance. All we want to do in the news is to demonize our young people about what they are doing negative, what they are doing wrong.” Looking at the applicants, he said, “They are trying to do right.”
“We keep hearing that the people at the top five percent are making more money that they’ve ever made. Let’s put some jobs back in the community. Let’s offer some people some hope and opportunity to stand on their own,” said Pfleger.
Saying he heard last month there was a big decrease in unemployment in America, Pfleger quipped, “They must not be counting Auburn Gresham, Englewood, Lawndale, Woodlawn because they must not be counting these neighborhoods because we’re not seeing any decrease out here. If it’s 7 percent in America, it’s 25 or 25 percent here.”
He asked for a show of hands among the applicants has been looking for jobs. “People are looking for jobs but where are they. It’s great if there are more people working downtown, but we’re here. We’ll work downtown, but we still got to come home with a check. We can’t just keep talking about violence in some isolated bubble issue and not deal with education and jobs. It’s not just about bringing numbers down. It’s not about just the violence numbers going down. It’s about lives here being changed because they have a future and a possibility,” said Pfleger.
For job offerings, please call the Church rectory at 773.483.4300 or the Saint Sabina Employment Resource Center at 773.783.3760.