On February 2, 2014 the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune issued a call for ideas and input from all areas of Chicago to create a grand strategic plan for the city’s future, citing “the innovative ideas, and fierce loyalty, of its citizens” as necessary to fueling any successful endeavor. (You can read the entire editorial here.)
The Barat Education Foundation has responded to this call. In a letter to the Editorial Board, Our American Voice® Program Director Suzy Evans and Program Facilitator Anita Zajac argued that among the “formidable assets” to which the Tribune referred, the city’s youth are among them. The body of their leader reads as follows:
Actions speak louder than words, and we applaud the Editorial Board’s call to all citizens to act on crafting a new plan for Chicago as the city looks to mark the 50th Anniversary of its last comprehensive plan.
In order for citizens to engage, to act constructively to create positive change, they must first know how to engage and work the democratic systems in place, but the absence of civics education over the past decades has made it hard for Chicagoans to acquire that knowledge. We are one of a handful of organizations working to overcome that deficit. Currently, 11 Chicago Public Schools across the city are participating in the Our American Voice® program, our project-based learning initiative that develops leadership, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills in middle-school students while teaching them the fundamentals of American democracy and empowering them to effect positive change in their own communities. Past groups have worked on issues such as the availability of fresh healthy foods in their neighborhoods, safety in and around their schools, identifying (and being) positive role models in their communities, creating greater community awareness of and participation in local resources, and much more.
Your editorial noted that Chicago has “formidable assets”. We agree, and we tell you that one major asset is Chicago’s youth. We have brought your challenge to our participants across Chicago. They are learning hands-on how to engage with other members of a democratic society not just to point out what is wrong, but to identify what should be and to blaze a trail to reach that point, knowing that the success of the community and the individual are interdependent and that with our rights and freedoms come responsibilities – two of the Core Principles of Our American Voice. We will share with you their contributions to your discussion, and we invite you to visit with them and hear their vision for Chicago, for their home. We cannot hope to advance our city or our own fortunes if we do not address the fundamental lack of civic literacy and the resultant lack of trust and faith in our democratic institutions. You have challenged Chicagoans to share their ideas; we challenge you to join us in creating a community that empowers its members to collaborate, be heard, and move the entire city forward.
OAV participants at Pershing Magnet School in Chicago have already responded to the call and have written their own letter to share their thoughts on an issue they consider important — the problem of litter. We invite you to add your voice and support to our call. Please contact the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board and voice your support for encouraging and sustaining the civic engagement of Chicago’s young people. You can submit your comments here (look to the right of the page for the submission form). Thank you.