Photo by Sara Selevitch
You might have seen more than 1,000 high school students pounding through the Back Bay and across Beacon Hill holding signs Thursday. You weren’t imagining things. As they do every year, youth from around Boston took to the streets on their vacation to make noise about the importance of employment.
The Youth Jobs Coalition’s 5th annual roving rally kicked off at Old South Church, which was brimming to capacity all morning. As has become tradition, the demonstration drew teen groups from all over the state, with young people filling the pews not in pursuit of prayer, but in pursuit of opportunities.
“We want to help kids stay out of the streets and bring some income into their homes,” said Norie Liz, an employee at the empowerment building organization Chelsea Collaborative. “We’re here today asking to be put in the budget for youth jobs. We’re trying to gather as many youth as possible from across Massachusetts to march up to the State House and demand we get more state funding for youth summer jobs.”
“I think the methods are effective,” added 17-year-old Maryanne Smith. “It’s packed with people inside.”
As the clock approached noon, packs of teens readied for the rally, buzzing inside and around the church. Though anxious to get down to business, they listened carefully and chanted as they were addressed by peers, community leaders, and elected officials.
“You’re not asking for a favor, you’re demanding what belongs to you,” said former City Councilor Felix G. Arroyo, now the chief of health and human services for Boston under Mayor Marty Walsh, to an excited audience. Arroyo promised to call businesses personally and ask about job openings. In her turn, Attorney General Martha Coakley swung for the rhetorical fences: “You are making news. You are making history.”
Political platitudes aside, there seemed to be a genuine effort to consider the gravity of the youth jobs situation. During one activity, students were asked stand if their families receive government benefits, if they’ve ever had to worry about paying for groceries, if they worry about paying for college, and if they think there are enough jobs in their community. Revealing moments ensued. The compassion in the room was palpable as an alarming number of teens stood in solidarity with one another.
Among those on hand to highlight the systemic problems–namely, that youth jobs funding gets put on the chopping block every year–were young people who are fortunate enough to have employment. In many cases they’ve been vulnerable themselves. They feel support is needed. “I’m just here because it took me a while to find a job, and I know others out there who are still trying,” said 18-year-old Shaheim Grant. “We’re so used to hearing ‘Oh no, we can’t hire you, oh no, oh no, oh no’ … We’re tired of hearing that. We want to hear ‘Oh yes.’ We want to work. We want to stay out of trouble. That’s why I’m here.”
Photo by Chris Faraone
We asked some other participants what brought them out for the afternoon, and why they chose to spend a day of their vacation protesting rather than hanging out at home …
“Always something. Maybe it’s the cafeteria food they don’t like.”
-Anonymous bus driver watching teens exit Old South Church
“We’re here today asking to be put in the budget for youth jobs. We’re trying to gather as many youth as possible from across Massachusetts to march up to the State House and demand we get more state funding for youth summer jobs.”
-Norie Liz, employee at Chelsea Collaborative
“We want to get youth away from violence. I feel like doing this will help stop youth from getting into trouble.”
-Maryanne Smith, Age 17
“Even though I have a job, not many others do, and I have to show support.”
-Abdul Hussein, Age 18, employee at Bikes Not Bombs