Hadiya Pendleton. Ms. Pendleton’s death became a symbol for a different element of gun violence — urban youth, caught in the wrong place or wrong time, and often overlooked or quickly forgotten. Ms. Pendleton, a student at King College Prep High School, was shot on January 29, 2013 as she sat after school in a park (about a mile from President Obama’s Chicago home) with friends — a group that the police say were probably mistakenly swept up in the cross-fire of a gang fight. Guns, shootings and violence in the streets are a daily topic in Chicago. Unfortunately, Ms. Pendleton is one of many young lives lost. Civic leaders, the Mayor, other government officials and Chicago Police are looking for innovative ways to help get kids off the street, thus removing guns from their hands, and preventing the senseless loss of our youth.
There may be a glimmer of hope, thanks to the Youth Led Tech program, which was piloted this summer, as a partnership between Smart Chicago Collaborative, Get IN Chicago and Microsoft. Get IN Chicago is our city’s only public-private partnership exclusively dedicated to reducing violence. Combining the strength of Chicago’s best leaders, organizations, and service providers, the goal of Get IN Chicago, is to leverage the power of our entire city to create collaborative, effective solutions. Get IN Chicago focuses on making our city safer in four ways: building up local organizations, funding successful programs, measuring and evaluating impact, and continuously collaborating with the community. One such program that supports capacity building, technical assistance, and community empowerment initiatives is the Youth Led Tech program.
Over the past six weeks, 130 youth in five challenging neighborhoods, participated in digital skills classes and completed instructions and testing to achieve a certificate and a new ASUS Windows laptop. The idea is to teach technology in the areas that youth are most interested in—web design/building a website—and to exposure and tech them more about careers in tech. The goal is to provide the youth with marketable skills, along with new mentors and corporate contacts, so they can get a job or explore careers in tech.
Last week, Microsoft and Adam Hecktman had the honor of hosting this year’s class, parents and guardians, mentors and partners at the Microsoft Technology Center to celebrate the graduation and certificate program of the Youth Led Tech group. The large room was packed to celebrate what is possible, and what ought to be happening with Chicago’s youth. With great partnerships like Smart Chicago Collaborative and Get IN Chicago, and innovative approaches to providing workforce skills, we’ll be seeing fewer tragedies and more opportunity for Chicago’s youth.