March 12, 2013

SSA hosts panel for local teenage boys

Over 100 male teenagers from 10 high schools in Hyde Park, Washington Park, Kenwood-Oakland, and Woodlawn attended a seminar geared toward empowering adolescent males held at the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) on Friday.

Co-sponsored by UCMC’s Urban Health Initiative, the SSA, and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and, Culture (CSPRC), the seminar explored issues particular to adolescent males growing up in an urban setting, including conflict resolution, social skills and networking, and nutrition and wellness.

The seminar focused on the area immediately surrounding the University, including students from Gary Comer College Prep in Grand Crossing, and north to Options Lab School in Kenwood. According to SSA Professor Waldo Johnson, Jr., a faculty affiliate at CSPRC who also helped organize the seminar, each school nominated 15 students “viewed as leaders in their high school,” who will then be expected to hold similar seminars and discussions with their classmates at their respective schools, according to Michael J. Harris, UCMC Community Relations Coordinator.

Harris began developing the seminar last April after realizing that while the hospital provided a health-related seminar for adolescent females, “there was nothing comparable for adolescent males.”

Johnson also said that in its assembly, he and the other program administrators looked for primarily African-American panelists.

“We wanted people who look like [the students], people who can be viewed as experts other than athletes and entertainers,” he said, in reference to Law Professor Randolph Stone and UCPD Chief Marlon Lynch, who both spoke at the seminar.

One of the panels discussed health, focusing on safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as how to meet daily nutritional needs. Another covered networking skills, teaching the students how to develop connections with their teachers, employers, and community leaders.

UCPD Chief Marlon Lynch led a morning discussion on conflict resolution, stressing the importance of mediation in everyday life.

“Just dealing with a situation on the street: that’s conflict resolution.... The way you deal with conflict resolution affects the rest of your life,” he said.

During the afternoon question-and-answer session, one participant asked the panelists how conflict resolution relates to matters of life and death. Responding to whether self-defense can ever justify murder, UCMC Executive Director of Community and External Affairs Leif Elsmo was firm.

“No. If you find yourself where you are having those type of thoughts, that’s a situation you have to get out of.”

Participants in the afternoon forum also discussed the importance of a college education. Panelist Shayne Evans, Director of University of Chicago Charter School and a managing director at the Urban Education Institute, noted the structural barriers his audience faces.

“I’m going to be the bad guy on the panel.... There’s 100 of you in here. But the data tells you that only eight of you are going to make it,” said Evans. “You just have to figure it out. I saw a whole lot of hands that you want to go to college and make it.”

Eriq Hilliman, a student at Options Lab School who attended the seminar, said his teacher told him the event “would be a good place to bond with males.” Hilliman noted that many students his age consider dropping out of school.

“They just want to do drugs, gang bang, but I just want to stay in school.”

According to Harris, the seminar was the first of four, two of them occurring this academic school year, and the other two next fall. Each will bring together students from a different set of neighborhoods on the South Side.