Changing the Narrative: Chicago Teens are Rewriting the Story of Our City 

Teens represent the future of Chicago – the next generation of artists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, coders, and leaders. It’s essential to nurture, elevate, and protect their voices and opinions, as they will play a pivotal role in creating a brighter future for everyone. While the media often focuses on negative narratives about young people, the reality is that most teens in Chicago are actively engaged in working to improve themselves, their communities, and the city. After School Matters offers them safe and creative spaces to do just that. 

In addition to programs teaching painting, culinary arts, coding, sports management, and entrepreneurship, ASM also offers civic leadership programs. These programs empower teens to address violence and inequity in their neighborhoods by developing projects and events while collaborating with local leaders to tackle these pressing issues. 

Here are some of the civic leadership programs offering ASM teens a voice in making a better Chicago: 

Social Media for Social Change, in partnership with Project Unloaded, in Downtown Chicago allows teens to educate their peers on the risks of owning a gun. They share this information by creating and posting social media content across communications channels. 

“We are working with teens at After School Matters to train them to be marketing professionals and use social media to empower other teens,” said Olivia Brown, Social Media for Social Change Instructor. “Many of our students have come to us really heartbroken, grieving and wanting more. I think it is really important to give them some tools to start those conversations with people they love and care about and want to see them succeed.” 

Peacemaker teens in Englewood work with their peers to stop violence in their community and make a positive change in their city. They learn about the peace-building process, reflect on their neighborhoods, recognize their roles as peacemakers, and design a project to spread the message of peace.  

“Being a Peacemaker gives me the peace-building skills to help stop violence before it starts.” Jahkeith, Peacemaker teen. 

Increase the Peace in Back of the Yards teaches teens how to be leaders and the basics of community organizing. Participants work with local leaders to create a mural or community event that brings people together. Teens organized a spring event in Back of the Yards for families that included food and games for kids. 

Through these efforts, teens are given the tools, resources, and support they need to become agents of positive change in their neighborhoods and beyond. By investing in the potential of our youth and providing them with meaningful opportunities where they can also earn money, we can work towards creating a safer and more equitable city for all.