When we don’t create a space for young people, they make their own in places adults usually don’t like.
That’s a lesson the Hyde Park community learned the hard way. Last Halloween, an estimated 500 teens showed up at 53rd Street and Lake Park for a “Halloween Purge.” Besides egg bombs and paintball fights, some teens jumped on cars and fistfights broke out, according to news reports.
This year, between Saturday and Tuesday, up to 1,500 teens could converge on Hyde Park.
Some residents hope to turn the unsanctioned Halloween takeover into a more positive event by giving the teens a space where they can safely enjoy themselves.
“My issue is there are so many educated people in Hyde Park, so many artists, developers and creators, that we can have something,” said LaKeisha Hamilton, 40, a youth development practitioner.
She grew up in Hyde Park and still resides there.
With the help of several local organizations and residents in the Hyde Park and Kenwood areas, Hamilton put together alternative Halloween events.
“Our mindset needs to change to being a welcoming community for the young black child, period. Why can’t we provide the space for structured craziness?” she asked.
After several meetings that included aldermen in the 4th and 5th wards and the police commander in the 2nd District, Hamilton came up with a plan that included a D.J., a Spoken Word stage, Nerf Wars, Bubble Soccer and discounted $5 movie tickets at the Harper Theater.
But those plans were drastically scaled back because of a lack of resources.
Hamilton could get approval for only two game trucks and discounted movie tickets.
“We had some really great events planned, events that would have made it a lot more engaging, but we were met with obstacles,” said Ebony Lucas, 42, a real estate attorney.
Lucas, the mother of two teenagers and a 4-year-old, was a part of the group trying to create an alternative to the chaos that took place on the 53rd Street business corridor last year.
“Some of the organizations could have provided some resources, but didn’t,” she said. “As a result, we ended up greatly reducing the activities that we were going to have.”
Leslie A. Hairston, the 5th Ward’s alderman, and the Chicago Park District are sponsoring a teen event at the promontory on Friday, and another event at the Midway Plaisance on 59th Street on Tuesday night.
But those events won’t address the mass turnout anticipated on the 53rd Street business corridor on Saturday night.
“The commander wants volunteers to encourage [teens] to go to the Midway, but they cannot walk from 53rd to 59th,” Hamilton said.
The Hyde Park Neighborhood Club is donating a driver and a 12-passenger bus, but as Hamilton points out, that won’t be nearly enough.
“Where are the trolleys? Where are the neighborhood buses?” she asked.
To deter criminal behavior on Saturday, the Chicago Police Department will have a prisoner transportation van parked outside the BP gas station and McDonald’s at 52nd and Lake Park.
“The businesses don’t want the young people in front of their door, but this is a tradition that they started,” Hamilton said. “We are meeting them where they are. We need to be ready. We need to be active.”
Lucas noted that Hairston’s plan for a teen activity at the promontory on Friday does nothing for the kids who will be on 53rd Street on Saturday.
As for the abbreviated events, Lucas said their hands were tied.
“What we have done is try to make the best out of this situation,” she said.
“We didn’t get the support that we thought we would get. I hope that next year we can make this a Hyde Park tradition where we are welcoming to the teens in the City of Chicago,” Lucas said.
“Volunteer headquarters will be at 1453 E. 53rd Street, and will open as early as 2 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, contact: Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org