Opportunity and Civic Engagement in Chicago

by Jaylin McClinton   •  

I grew up in Roseland, a predominantly African-American community on the south side of Chicago, Illinois – a community plagued with high unemployment, a lack of economic development, and scarce educational resources.

In 2009, Roseland garnered national headlines for the brutal beating of honors student Derrion Albert. Derrion’s death was a clarion call to action for community leaders, law enforcement, and policy makers to address the ongoing crisis of youth violence in Chicago. Like many young African-American men across the country, Derrion’s story resonated with me for a number of reasons. Indeed, his short life represented yet another “dream deferred” for Black men within my community. This experience, and other alike, has fueled my education, passion for social justice advocacy, career aspirations as a public servant, and my intent to bring more opportunities to my neighborhood.

As a child, I traveled outside of my district to attend elementary school and high school. I always thought that was odd, but my mother and grandmother wanted to ensure that I gained opportunities that they did not have. As a result, I went to St. Sabina Academy, a private school, and Curie Metropolitan High School, where I was enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme. Witnessing the inequities amongst the services offered to students in my community and at my high school laid the foundation for my commitment to pushing for change.

Now as a college student, I am realizing how I want to make a lasting change in society. I am in the process of developing a curriculum focusing on civic engagement. As Opportunity Nation’s recent report showed, getting young people civically engaged creates opportunity for them because they are then more likely to stay on track with education and employment. Too many young people think their voices do not matter and unfortunately do not get involved in the electoral process. I want to change that through education and empowerment.

I hope the civic engagement curriculum I am developing will leave a lasting effect on the Roseland community. Eventually, I want to develop a non-profit committed to addressing issues related to healthcare, financing college, and more. The personal stories and experiences of others around me have fueled me to become a leader of tomorrow and through my work with Opportunity Nation as an Opportunity Leader, I will be able to carry the torch to the next generation of leaders.

In fact, for everyone reading this, I want to empower you now. I want to challenge you all to get involved in the electoral process whether that means joining a campaign, voting on Election Day, serving as an election judge, elevating Opportunity Nation’s Presidential Plan or running for office. I often find myself interacting with elected leaders at all levels by calling their offices, mentioning them on social media, and writing leaders. For example, I called and tweeted my Senators in support of creating higher education savings accounts for children. I plan to continue speaking out as an Opportunity Leader. Let’s advance bi-partisan ideas that will create more opportunity for young people. Engagement is the true way to promote opportunity and I am committed to ensuring that every elected leader understands the importance of creating opportunity for all—from young people in Roseland to everywhere in our country.

Jaylin McClinton Jaylin D. McClinton is a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying African-American Studies and Political Science with a Pre-Law Concentration, where he serves as a student trustee.

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