After the recent teen takeover in the Chicago Loop which caused mayhem, chaos and personal injuries, I reflected on my teen years in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I came along right after the turbulent sixties, and I reaped some of the gains from the civil rights struggle.
Oscar Brown Jr. had a television show called Opportunity Please Knock back then. Well, it did for me because I was able to get a Teacher’s Scholarship through the state. I went to college at no cost after promising to teach in the state of Illinois for five years. I did joyfully teach for six years and left with many rich memories.
During my college years, we had access to the beauty of the Chicago Loop. I went to several gatherings in hotels such as the Palmer House, the Congress (formerly the Pick-Congress), the Playboy Club, the Holiday Inn and the Lake Meadows Country Club, to name a few. We only needed to know if it was after-five or formal wear when getting ready to go. If it was after-five, we wore short, fanciful dresses and if it was formal, we wore floor-length dresses. And, we all had plenty of choices in our personal closets. This was before the blue jean and pants era, so we took great pride in getting all gussied-up, as the Southerners say.
This added to our self-esteem and we felt welcomed while being given a pass to engage in a civil society. As a Brownie and a Girl Scout member, I was taught mottos that encouraged me to become a productive citizen. But most importantly, we had access and we knew how to conduct ourselves in public. However, our youth today are crying out for help.
Sometimes, great programs have been put in place and new politicians come along and decide to dismantle someone else’s good work. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There had been an expansive summer teen employment program put in place in the early 70’s by Richard J. Daley’s administration. I worked with the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program each summer helping as a camp counselor, a payroll clerk, a payroll supervisor and an area coordinator. It was my summer gig because back then, teachers did not receive summer pay!
We hired teens from all over the city from the ages of 14 to 18 to do things such as cleaning up the neighborhood, supervising day camps or whatever was needed in their communities. I remember the very young being taught how to get their Worker’s Permit as they excitedly learned how to earn a paycheck. I was helping them and also helping myself as I enjoyed working in the Loop and later driving around the city to check on various worksites.
While working in the Loop, we had the run of LaSalle Street where our Y office was located. We enjoyed the local bakeries, bookstores, banks and going in and out of City Hall to buy stamps or money orders. I got my first credit card at a clothing store called Pollyanna’s which was close to where I enjoyed my first Wendy’s hamburger. At lunch time, we sat on plazas and listened to people like Herbie Mann and other musicians while enjoying the busy Loop.
What happened? Who decided that our local teens should be left out of the normal flow of accessing the Loop and carving out a path forward? Why do they feel that they have been left behind and choose to rebel by destroying the property of others? They obviously feel unwelcome and now everyone is scrambling and trying to figure out what should be done.
It’s simple. Do the research and go back to what worked in the past. The wheel does not have to be reinvented, but just pulled out, oiled and put back into operation. It may take time, but ALL youth should be allowed to find a path towards becoming a decent, productive citizen. Restart the mass employment programs, give well-chaperoned functions in the hotels and give the youth a chance to enjoy life. It may have to start with a selective sample of teens to show the stakeholders that they too can sing America in a respectful way. They may need a little guidance on manners and dress but a small beginning can end with a big finish when minds and hearts are open to inclusion for all!
April 22, 2023