Scott Thuman: So for people who are around the country who are unfamiliar, but they see the headlines. Right. And they see it get mentioned in the news. It’s typically something like another violent weekend in Chicago.’ That's what we see around the country. Describe for us what it's really like.
Aisha Oliver, Youth2Fruit Youth Foundation:
What's happening in Chicago right now is honestly it's a trickledown effect of things that the city and the state allowed to happen over the years from tearing down housing projects and pushing out people into different neighborhoods, to closing 50 schools in black and Brown communities. Closing factories, closing jobs here in, in Chicago. The North side looks amazing. South side and West side look like War zones
Scott: You were just saying how you can go down certain stretches here of Chicago Ave. And you said it's kind of like a war zone. What do you mean by that?
Oliver: If you were to go from Austin, Chicago Avenue and Austin to Chicago Avenue and Kedzie. There are at least two liquor stores on every cornerabandoned buildings. You might pass a school that’s been boarded up; grounds are not being kept. And then you have so much gang and drug activity and it's like, I mean, it's out in the open. Like there's no one that can ride down that street right on Chicago Avenue and not notice what's happening right out in open. Right. So if I noticed that as an adult, imagine the kids that walk through there to go to the store or they're going to school, or they might be going to the YMCA. They see it just like, I see it. You know, people, nodding, people, possibly OD’ing it's very, very out in the open.
Scott: You talked about the fact that everything from schools to factories closing to all the different contributing factors of what's going on right now, what's the consequence of all that?
Oliver: For me, it’s always been like, there’s a total lack of quality education. The Chicago public schools have a lot of work to do and they have a lot of making up to do with children, especially in black and Brown communities. For instance, my children had to be tested to get into a magnet school and they have to be bused to the North side for a decent education. But we live right here in Austin, where this is the largest community out of the 77 that make up the entire city. Why don't we have one decent school in our area where our kids can go and get a quality education.
Scott: So all of these things that you're describing, do they all play into why there's so much violence? Why there's so much gang activity right now?
Oliver: Yes. Absolutely. When kids have to struggle or watch their parents struggle especially African American children, they will tend to take on those things as their responsibilities. I worked in the schools and I still work in the schools and a lot of those kids take on those responsibilities because they have younger siblings or, you know, there's something going on with their mom and they want to make sure that they're still able to eat at night.
Scott: What are they pushed into?
Oliver: It could be drugs, selling drugs, gangs. However, they're going to be able to feed themselves and whoever else is living with them or who they may be connected to or taking care of, they're going to do that by any means, and for some of them going and just getting a job, it seems like it seems so distant for them, you know? So one of the things that we were doing at school was teaching our young people, the interview process, how to write a resume, how to write a cover letter, you know, how to dress for an interview. Those are things that the schools should be teaching them. Those are life skills that they need.
There are so many things that happen in Chicago and there are so many great opportunities, but it's very rare that the black and Brown community will get that information. So it's like, for instance, I often create opportunities for our young people so that they can get a chance to travel or they can get a chance to go and visit places that they've never seen before bringing programs, STEM programs, or some sort of program that will help them to realize what their potential is or what their dream might be or what their passion might be. We don't get that often in these communities, we don't get the same resources that other communities who already have resources continue to get.
Scott: You said that also years ago, it was, if there was a dispute, it was taken up with fists?
Scott: Now it's guns?
Oliver: Yes. In high school, I would say we had issues like this. They were not as prevalent as they are now, but people would fight it out. I mean, you could still have a fist fight and that be that and everyone goes their separate ways. But now getting a gun is so easy on the streets now. I mean, you have kids who have access to guns.
A child can’t be what they can't see. So if you take every good example away from them, you take every good opportunity away from them. What do you leave them with? They're going to adapt to what they see.
Scott: And the fact that you say guns are so easy to get here, it just makes the problem that much worse?
Oliver: Yes. 10 times worse, because now you have issues over, you know areas where one maybe making money, the other may not be making money. It could be over money. It could be over this person had an issue with this person and someone got shot. So now they're going to go back and shoot.
Scott: The gangs knew you don't involve kids or women?
Oliver: Yep, or elderly people.
They're off limits.
Oliver: No one's off limits. If they can't get who they're looking for, they're going to get who's connected to them, or at least who they think is connected to them. And I believe that's how some of these children ended up being shot. They were in the car with someone, you know, and they might not have seen the child. They were just shooting in the car. But now it's to the point where it's like, if they can't get who they're looking for, they're looking for someone close enough or connected to that person that'll draw them out.
Scott: And police, what role do you think they are playing these days or should play?
Oliver: The police should most likely take a second and really think about why they took the job that they have. And it's not all police because we have some very good officers here in the 15 district, but we have some officers who just like to be jerks as well. There is no attachment to this community. When they get in their cars and go home after their shift, they go to a very different area. Where their kids go to school does not look like the schools that they patrol.
Scott: Do there needs to be more or less police officers to help control the situation.
Oliver: There needs to be more police officers who have a passion for people, who understand humanity, who understand that your badge does not make you better than me. Does not make you superior; that I'm still human. You're still human. And you have to give respect to get respect.
Scott: What do you see as the future?
Oliver: Chicago looks great in the future. And Chicago looks great because there are more people who want to see Chicago flourish because we know what the city can be, what the city still is. But there is this cloud over us when people use, you know, their platforms to only highlight the negative things or the things that might happen. Everything that I do is because I want to make sure that not only my kids, but the kids that I have helped raise in this community and other communities can, they don't have, they shouldn't have to move away from Austin to feel like they had a wonderful life.
We're going to do what we need to do as a community. We're not going to wait on someone to come in and give us a handout. Hard work has never been, you know, it's never been something that we are not used to.
Scott: I know you don't want to make this about you, but I'm curious. I mean, you're heavily involved in the process of trying to stem some of this violence. Do you worry about your own safety?
Oliver: To can be, to be completely honest. I used to be, but now not at all, I have completely accepted what I am here to do and why I'm doing it.