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Youth Pride Services launches anti-violence campaign
by Erica Demarest

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Youth Pride Services, a Chicago organization that works with Black queer youth, recently launched a "Be Great" campaign. The youth-led initiative works toward ending violence among youth of color through PSAs, conflict resolution workshops and community events.

"The youth are trying to get people involved in a grassroots campaign, trying to be great and stop the violence and other silliness that can go on," said Frank Walker, youth director at Youth Pride Services. "It strives to break down barriers that can prevent you from trying to be great or being better than just hanging out there on Belmont."

With co-sponsors that include the 23rd District Police Department, the Northalsted Business Alliance and Pow Wow, "Be Great" will focus on youth who frequent the Boystown area. The hallmark effort is a PSA campaign in which young adults produce print and video ads encouraging their peers to "Be Great."

Local sponsors—including District Commander Kathleen Boehmer and a representative from Tom Tunney's office—voted in early August for the best print ad. The winning print PSA will be announced Aug. 18 at Ann Sather's on Belmont during a "Be Great" meeting; it will run in local publications (including the Windy City Times) and be distributed among youth as a palm card.

Video submissions are still being accepted on the "Be Great" Facebook page, which has more than 160 members, many of whom post daily.

"I've always believed that if they're not a part of the process, then they don't have a vested interest in it," Walker said. "You'll have the same problem over and over and over again every year."

In coming weeks, youth will sponsor and lead conflict-resolution, etiquette and de-escalation workshops throughout the city. Thirty "house" events—15 on the West Side, 15 on the South Side—will allow people to convene in their own neighborhoods, while several members of the Northalsted Business Alliance will donate space for Lakeview events.

"If visitors to the neighborhood feel like they have a little bit more ownership of it, then they're more likely to respect it," said Jay Lyon, executive director of the Northalsted Business Alliance.

Walker said "Be Great" was created as a direct response to community uproar over a series of violent attacks in Boystown this summer—some of which involved young Black men. Many residents complained visiting youth were to blame for the attacks, and nearly 800 people attended a July 6 CAPS meeting demanding solutions.

"I think [the dialogue there] was getting away from the actual topic, which was: How do you deal with violence? We believe every person should live in a safe neighborhood. We don't believe that it's racist to say that. Being on the South Side, we acknowledge that there are some youth of color who are engaging in activities they shouldn't engage in," Walker said.

"But the CAPS meeting pretty much showed us that there are so many distractions, so many agendas," he continued. "Nobody wanted to hear what the youth had to say, and there's a big difference between what youth are saying and what adults are saying."

Davi Akei, 21, who made a print PSA ad this summer, said the all-youth aspect is what drew him to "Be Great."

"It feels like less of a duty if your friends and people your own age are doing it," Akei said. "With older people, it feels like more of a dictatorship—we should do this because they're saying we should do it. But if the youth are doing it, it's more like we have a choice and it'll be fun."

Walker hopes fun youth meetings will translate to serious results. "It's really just to challenge young people," he said. "We're always quick to show them what they need, but we really want to challenge them to go out and find out what they're potential is. To discover that potential and put it to good use."

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