Fearless Leading by the Youth: An Interview

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #14 in April 2014]

This interview transcript was edited down to about one-third the of original length. This transcript comes from an interview that Rozalinda Borcila and Jacob Klippenstein recorded with Torii Crider, an organizer with Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY) at the Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) office (at 61st and St. Lawrence) on July 31, 2013. Watch the video in the Special Projects media section of the issue, here

How old were you when you joined Fearless Leading by the Youth?

At first I used to be the youngest one and they never let me forget it. When I first joined I was fourteen-going-on-fifteen. I’m currently seventeen-going-on-18, coming soon. [Laughs]

What brought you to work with FLY?

Well, what first drew me in . . . I went to an action. They had a march from 61st and Cottage Grove to University of Chicago Hospital and, I wanna say, that really got me into doing the work because the march was extremely awesome. There were so many people out there. I didn’t know that so many youth would be out there doing that. I was one of those people who think, like, “Oh, these kids in our neighborhood—all they do is just shoot, smoke weed and blah blah blah,” but apparently they don’t.

And I stick around because I like the work that I do; although it requires a lot, it’s oddly relaxing. It feels good to, after school, come here and start doing something that will build a better future for the youth after me. Plus, the people here are like family.

What does “kid” mean to you?

To me, personally, my younger sister is a kid. I think anyone who’s not a teenager is a kid, pretty much, but, then again—the youth—technically we’re still kids. If I was to get locked up now I would go to the juvenile prison and not the adult prison. I’m still a kid legally. The downside to being a kid is, well, you can’t vote. So, you have to really go through adult allies or wait until you’re an adult to get things to get passed. I was so irritated that I was sixteen and I couldn’t vote for my president or my mayor and yet my mayor can take away my schools and my access to healthcare.

How does the act of organizing challenge this power imbalance?

In FLY, the youth set up these meeting with the politicians and the officials and we go to the meetings and we usually come out with some kind of outcome. We usually have some kind of commitment from that politician. We usually have them coming to an event or doing a press conference or, as Bobby Rush, looking for funds for trauma centers. His son was affected by this. He died because there was not a trauma center near him. He bled to death.

So, it’s totally important that the youth do this. We are out here trying to make changes for the better and when the politicians see this then they’ll hop on board. And the idiots in the world like Rahm Emanuel can see that “Oh, I can’t just mess with these kids.”

What issues does FLY organize around?

We have two main campaigns. One is the trauma center campaign and the other is the Audy Home campaign. With the trauma center campaign, we’re just trying to get a trauma center for the South Side of Chicago because we don’t have one on our side of the city. With the Audy Home campaign, we’re trying to implement restorative justice. We don’t want children to be locked up behind bars, especially because the majority of children in jail these day are there for nonviolent crimes. So, instead of sending them to jail we want them to invest in our youth and to send them to restorative justice hubs where they do peace circles and go to the root of the issue, why they went and committed the crime.

People be like, “Oh, there’s this girl she’s always, like, walking down the street, gang banging.” I be like, “Well, maybe if you go talk to that girl and find out what she’s going through, then, like, you can mentor her.” Most youth, they don’t think this kind of work is for them. They’re like, “Oh, protesting? What’s that gonna do? You guys are just gonna be outside, screaming at people, with signs in your hands.” But when they see the kind of work that we do, and the purpose for it, and the kind of outcomes that we get they go through a change. Because some of our youth in FLY, they used to be gang bangers. One of our lead organizers, he used to gang bang, but he doesn’t anymore. He’s just someone to look up to and he’s only 21.

What stereotypes or assumptions do you address in your organizing work?

When we go out and flier and try to get people to come out to these rallies, people are like, “Oh, well, I’m not gonna get locked up again,” or “I’m not gonna get locked up period.” And we’re like, “OK, you may get locked up for something that’s totally trumped up.”

And then the adults are like, “Oh, these youth are, out, shooting each other and killing each other. They need to be locked up behind bars.” We’re like, “They’re not necessarily shooting each other and killing each other. They’re acting out because they don’t have resources.”

The youth in the neighborhoods, nowadays, we don’t have any resources. They even took away our basketball courts. You have youth who are out here playing basketball in crates in the alley. And while they’re playing basketball—this literally happened to us because I was one of those trying to play basketball in a crate—while we were out there playing basketball in the alley, the police came, and tried to get on us, talking about mob action and trespassing and loitering.

People think that when they see a group of kids hanging out that we’re automatically up to something suspicious, that we’re so suspect. But usually, especially when I was a kid—I’m gonna say a kid because I’m grown—when I hung out with a group of friends we were just usually trying to figure out something to do.

We’d be like, “Ok, wanna play ‘it?’”
“Ok, wanna play tag?”
“Ok, how about we all play truth or dare?”
It was never like, “Ok, wanna go rob that store?”
“Ok, wanna go beat up that old lady?”
“Ok, wanna go rob a bank?”

No, we never talked about stuff like that. We never did anything like that. Being bad was not on our minds. We just want something fun to do.

And youth who, before FLY, were just out on the streets with nothing to do, not in school, just out there to be out there. They’re here. They’re going to GED classes. Then they’re going out, going to school and, pretty much, trying to make this neighborhood better.

How do you organize to accomplish the goals of each campaign?

It may not look like it, but we actually really do too much. [Laughing] With both campaigns, we organize completely. First, we need to get people to organize with. So, we go out, flier, and try to recruit new youth.

We are, of course, based on the South Side. Those are the people most directly affected by the issues that we organize around, so we try to get them aware of the issues because when we first started organizing around it no one knew what a trauma center was. People didn’t know that if you were shot right here you couldn’t go to the hospital that’s right down the street from your house. You had to go outside your community for that. So, we also make videos to bring more awareness and get people’s stories out about how they’re being affected by this. That’s part of the summer program. We do a youth program every summer.

We do a lot of community stuff too. We go out into the communities and have barbecues. We just set up a boombox and a grill. We invite people over and just chill. There’s food, dancing and bouncy houses at times.

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