By Chinta Strausberg
Flanked by scores of unemployed youth each holding a copy of their resume, Father Michael L. Pfleger Monday held a press conference at the Saint Sabina Church calling on businesses to give young men and women a chance by hiring them and not use a record as an excuse to exclude them; rather let it be a stepping stone for their future.
“We have seen a decrease in violence in the city of Chicago and we’re glad by that; yet don’t be fooled the violence is still going on,” said Pfleger referring to the killings and shootings over the weekend where one person was killed and seven shot last Saturday night alone.
Referring to the Auburn Gresham community, Pfleger said since he began his peace basketball leagues and tournaments/GED classes last year, he was able to hire 1100 youth last summer at 187 work sites.
“We’ve seen a drastic drop (of violence) in this community,” he told reporters. Referring to several reports including one from the University of Chicago, Pfleger said “when people have jobs, when people have options, crime and violence go down.”
Thanking the police for their role in stemming the violence, Pfleger turned and looked at former street leaders, Brandon, Pat, Kirk and Juan thanking them for helping to keep the peace in the community. This was achieved when last year Pfleger brokered a peace accord last September among four rival gangs whose members are now called “peacemakers.” “Our team work out in the streets every day to try to keep violence down in the community.”
But, looking at the applicants who stood behind him, Pfleger also thanked them and others “who made a conscious decision to stop the violence and to help bring peace in our community to save our lives and save our community.”
Making it clear, Father Pfleger said the real long-term solution to ending violence is “about real opportunity…about transformation…about giving options. We cannot just tell young people don’t shoot, don’t sell drugs…and not give them things that they can do…. We can’t just keep saying it’s wrong and not give them things that are right.”
Referring to the applicants, Pfleger said “they are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers who want peace in the streets just as bad as anybody else in the city of Chicago but they need jobs to take care of themselves, their children and to help out with their families,” he said asking each to hold up their resumes.
“They want to work now. They want to be hired right now,” he said asking the private sector, the city, state, county and federal government to provide jobs for these youth.
Saying “it was a great thing” to be able to get city and state grants needed to hire 1100 young people this past summer, Pfleger said, “We’re grateful, but when the summer ends, all of a sudden there’s no job. Yet, he said, “They have responsibilities…rent… The responsibilities continue. We need year around jobs. Even a part-time job is better than no job. Give us something….”
“If you really want to help bring peace in Chicago, then give people an opportunity to get jobs…” so they can take care of themselves and their families. Pfleger said if companies don’t have jobs but are willing to send money to get them work, send the money to him and they will be hired.
Asked about companies who claim they can’t find qualified people who don’t have records, Pfleger said, “We do job preparation and job training…so they are prepared and they are ready…. I think when they say they can’t find qualified folks, I think more often that not, that is an excuse why they are not hiring anybody,” he said turning to the youth and asking them if they are qualified and ready to work.
“If you want to talk about records, the whole world is focused on Nelson Mandela. He has a record…27-years in the penitentiary because of treason. He was called by every country a terrorist and he became president (of South Africa) and now all the world is calling him great. A record ought not to be a stumbling block. It should be a stepping stone….”
For those who have a record and have paid for their crimes, Pfleger said, “Let them go free and go on with their future.”
For job offerings, please call the Church rectory at 773.483.4300 or the Saint Sabina Employment Resource Center at 773.783.3760.