Janeicia Williams, 23, still remembers the NAACP conventions she attended during the summers when she was much younger. The experiences allowed her to network with other young leaders and gave her something useful to do while traveling to cities across the country, she recalls.
Williams said she wanted to provide a similar experience for other young people, especially young people on the West Side.
“A lot of the kids we work with have never experienced a downtown hotel in a controlled space,” said Williams, the community liaison for Project Exploration, a Chicago-based nonprofit.
“A lot of times students go downtown because it’s trendy or because they just want to connect, but there are no productive activities to do and that changes the nature of what they do. while they’re out there,” Williams said.
Williams also serves as a grant program administrator for the state’s Restoration, Reinvestment, and Renewal (R3) program, which generates 25% of cannabis tax revenue to fund grants for violence prevention, reintegration, youth development, economic development and civil legal aid in disinvested countries. state domains.
Williams leveraged these organizational resources to organize the inaugural West Side Youth Empowerment Conference, held at the Downtown Hilton hotel in Chicago on August 6-7.
The event was sponsored by the Chicago Westside Branch NAACP, Project Exploration, the R3 Westside Collaborative Project and the Bright Leadership Institute. Other community organizations, including Habilitative Systems Inc., also helped fund the event.
The weekend conference included workshops on violence prevention, mental health and leadership. The approximately 100 young people who participated also enjoyed the live music and spoken word performances.
“The kids had a blast,” Williams said. “We did a debrief with some of the chaperones recently and they said the kids were always ranting about how cool the experience was.”
Cierra Tillman, a 17-year-old student at Michele Clark Magnet High School, said the weekend event taught a lot about effective communication.
“I’ve learned that having assertive communication skills will help you move forward in this world and use my communication skills effectively,” she said.
“I also had a conversation among my conference peers about what we need in our neighborhoods and what we can do to see change,” she added. “We talked about how we can use the resources we have to eventually be the resource.”
Alicia Rodgers, a 15-year-old student at Prosser Academy, said she “learned the importance of taking care of yourself and connecting with my inner vibration.”
Williams said she and her co-organizers are already planning next year’s conference. This year’s inaugural event is the result of extensive collaboration between a range of West Side institutions, she said.
“Convening this conference with students from over 11 organizations across the West Side was no small feat,” Williams said. “If it hadn’t been for these organizations being ready to lend their teams and donate their time throughout the summer, this wouldn’t have been possible. They put children before everything else.