Altgeld Youth Protest Lack of Library

by  , Youth reporter from Altgeld Gardens

Editor’s Note: The following article was written by a youth reporter who is a graduate of the Urban Youth International Journalism Program.

“We don’t have a library, we don’t have a school, so Mayor Daley what do you want us to do?”

This is the chant that 26 young, protesting residents of Altgeld Gardens housing development shouted at the Daley Center last winter.

The frustrated residents have been without a library now for over a year and counting. The library was an important resource to the community for various reasons such as researching information, looking for jobs, homework or just a place to surf the web. For most residents, the Altgeld Public Library was the only place to use a computer.

The Altgeld Public Library closed over a year ago due to a busted water pipe.

A spokeswoman for the library said that the building was so old that it would be very expensive to fix. Consequently, the problem was never fixed and the library has been closed ever since.

This didn’t sit well with the residents of Altgeld Gardens. Many residents believe that it’s unfair that many other communities and neighborhoods in Chicago have a library while their own community does not. To get the nearest library, residents would have to catch two buses.

“I feel bad about the library closing because kids like me don’t have anywhere to go,” said Everett Johnson, a 10 year-old Carver Elementary sixth grader.

People For Community Recovery, an environmental community organization that advocates on behalf of Altgeld residents, organized the protest at the Daley Center to call attention to kids like Everett to have a place to learn outside the school walls.

When residents arrived by school bus at the Daley Center they held a press conference with different news channels. Many students spoke on how they felt about the situation. After the press conference, students caught the elevator to the mayor’s office and demanded to see him. The mayor’s spokespeople said he wasn’t there, so they sent his assistant Lance Louis to talk the kids.

One of the students asked Mr. Louis to use his internet connection and he responded by saying he’ll “see what he can do.” Mr. Louis never got back to the student.

Now it is July 2010 and the community of Altgeld Gardens still doesn’t have a library. It’s been almost a year and a half since the community has not had a library. As of now, there is only a computer lab but residents can only access certain sites, so they are limited.

In May 2010 there was a meeting at Carver Elementary to talk about the library. Representatives from the Chicago Board of Education, the Chicago Public Library, and the Chicago Housing Authority proposed putting the public library in Carver Elementary, which all ready struggles with issues of space and overcrowding. When Carver Middle School was closed they sent those students Carver Primary School (which is now Carver Elementary). It was so crowded that two grade levels were often combined in the same classroom. For example, 5th graders were put into a class with 6th graders and so on.

The People for Community Recovery as well as other residents did not like this idea and opposed it.

“We didn’t want to compromise our already existing school space—space that is already overcrowded,” said community activist and People For Community Recovery’s acting CEO, Cheryl Johnson.

Even with community opposition such as Johnson’s, the plan to put the new library on Carver Elementary school grounds has gone ahead. Construction for the new library is still in progress and is supposed to be ready by the new school year in September.

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