28 young men were tearing down drywall and tossing bags of debris out the windows of condemned homes Wednesday, Oct. 12, in the historic Pullman neighborhood of Chicago. They were deconstructing these buildings as part of a community renewal and jobs program initiated by the Emerson Collective, where former Former U.S. Secretary of Education and Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan is a managing partner. The program reaches out to young men with histories of involvement in gangs, drugs and violence in Chicago, many of whom have been shot and spent time in jail or prison, and offers them a chance to help themselves and the community by putting them to work.
I spoke to 24-year-old Darius Fox, who said he was shot four times in front of a church when he was 17. It was a turning point in his life and it made him angry. He turned to selling drugs and spent three years in jail on a gun charge at 21. He said the program is helping him learn job skills, life skills and conflict management skills, all while working with other men with similar experiences.
"I like working a job. Just to have a job, that feels good, that help you feel better as a man...I ain't gotta look over my back, I ain't gotta watch out for the police, I ain't gotta worry about the police kicking in my door, nobody's trying to rob me. It’s a blessing. I feel good. I feel like a man."