We need to listen to these kids

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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I am a community member and local teacher. In the past weeks I've read several articles/letters in both Wednesday Journal and the Chicago Tribune discussing the student protest at the mayor's house. It is ironic that the only time these students have been able to get the community's attention is when property has been damaged. 

For two years these young people have been writing letters, starting petitions, staging protests, marches and sit-ins — calling for change in the hope that someone would listen. Over the summer, my family and I attended a Black Lives Matter protest/march at Holmes School that this student group helped organize. At the march's conclusion, I listened with tears in my eyes to two of my former sixth-graders speak to the crowd, each bravely describing in detail the pain they experience growing up as young Black people in America — and in "progressive" Oak Park. 

It takes tremendous courage to stand in front of a sea of strangers and speak about something so personal and so painful. And statistics support what they are saying. According to Oak Park Freedom to Thrive, a local organization that has been gathering and analyzing data on police "field stops" (when an officer stops a person in public to ask questions about a crime), 96 of 102 minors stopped by the Oak Park police between 2015-20 were Black. Two of them were 10 years old. 

The statistics are staggering. The courage of 14- and 15-year-olds, speaking out about this reality, is also staggering. It is my hope that our elected officials will also have courage — the courage to listen instead of condemn. Make time for these young people — your constituents who are too young to vote, or run for office themselves — and listen to what they have to say. Listen to their ideas for making our village a place where everyone — no matter their age or race — feels safe, valued and respected.

Kate O'Keefe

Oak Park

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Reader Comments

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Paul Clark  

Posted: September 25th, 2020 10:38 AM

I would disagree that the only time these young people have gotten the community's attention is because of these recent event at the village president's house. They have had numerous articles written about them in local papers. They have been instrumental in getting the police presence reduced at both middle schools and the high school. They have convinced local schools to remove or cover WPA art work deemed inappropriate for the current diverse mix of school age kids. Many in the village might disagree with actions and desired policy changes advocated by these students. But you can't deny that their work has had an impact. It's pretty amazing considering that most/all are too young to vote and they don't pay taxes, either. But they are being heard.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: September 25th, 2020 8:53 AM

There is nothing courageous about throwing eggs at anyone's house. Bad attention is not a good thing.

Joyce Siragusa  

Posted: September 25th, 2020 7:51 AM

First paragraph says it all...I am a community member and local teacher. In the past weeks I've read several articles/letters in both Wednesday Journal and the Chicago Tribune discussing the student protest at the mayor's house. It is ironic that the only time these students have been able to get the community's attention is when property has been damaged.

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