The Chicago Youth Movements Oral History Project
By resisting punitive and carceral structures, high school students across the city have and continue to agitate against power structures in pursuit of racial justice and equity. This project presents a collection of seven oral history-style interviews with Black and Brown Chicago youth who organized with the No Cop Academy and Cops Out CPS movements. No Cop Academy was a significant campaign that introduced young people to this work and created a community that has been pivotal to other youth protests. This oral history project emerged out of the recognition that individual memories, knowledge, and experiences from student activists can help us document these campaigns and further their goals. It is only when we make space to listen to youth on the ground that we can better support the hard work and beautiful dreams they construct through organizing and community mobilization.
Although the campaign ended years ago, it continues to impact similar struggles like Atalnta’s #StopCopCity movement and students who rose up again in Chicago to demand that CPS end its contract with CPD. Ultimately, this project calls us to engage in radical listening in order to allow young people to reimagine and rebuild a more caring and free world.
Before interacting with the collection, we invite you to read the accompanying paper (below). The unjust conditions that cause youth to resist, specifically the school/prison nexus, are discussed before introducing the two movements and the interviews.
Student Organizers: Destiny Harris, Meron Tegegne, Veronica Rodriguez, Rubi Mendez, Feker Chane, Catlyn Savado, Citlali Perez
Created by: Jennifer Tegegne
Coming from the West Garfield Park and Austin neighborhoods, Destiny discusses her experience growing up in a tight-knit community and how she got involved in organizing. After her elementary school was closed as part of Rham Emanuel’s disastrous school closures, Destiny participated in efforts to hold CPS accountable. As a high school student, she was invited into campaigns that ultimately agitated against the school district and the Chicago Police Department. Destiny eloquently details her experiences and allows us to understand her dreams and the abolitionist futures she continues to fight for.
Rubi has lived in Rogers Park and Humboldt Park for all of her life. During her interview, she discusses going to a high school with a very diverse student population and being involved in organizing within and outside the school community. Her experiences at the picket line to support Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), as well as work with the School Voice Committee are notable. This interview details the difficult and interesting conversations that occur with teachers, students, and administrators regarding policing and school discipline policies. Rubi also discusses the mismanagement and bureaucratic mess that students had to face in an effort to organize during the pandemic to push their LSCs. Rubi shares her story and dreams for a more just and equitable education system and society.
Growing up in Back of the Yards and Chicago Lawn, Citlali shares the memories and experiences she had in different school communities and organizing campaigns fighting for racial justice and immigrant rights. After co-founding a student organization called Dream Pursuers in 2015, Citlali started her involvement in campaigns fighting for undocumented Immigrants. Through Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC) and Assata’s Daughters, Citlali was looped into the No Cop Academy campaign and connected with Black and Brown students from the South and West sides. She provides great insight into the dynamics of youth movement spaces, art, and movements, and how school structures like the Student Voice Committee (SVC) interact with these efforts.
A youth organizer in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, Meron talks about what it looked like to question the structures around her and fight for a more equitable school system and city. She talks about her work representing her ward for the People’s Budget, leading a school walkout to demand more humane immigration policies, and working to get SROs removed from her selective enrollment Chicago Public high school. Passionate about healthcare and collective wellbeing, Meron was transformed by interactions she had with community members as a ward representative shaping the Chicago city budget. Meron’s story informs understanding of how schools empower student organizing in a way that pushed them to get involved in citywide and grassroots efforts which they bring back into the formal schoolhouse.
Coming from a neighborhood near Pilsen, North Lawndale, and Little Village, Veronica is an incredibly thoughtful organizer who was involved in the No Cop Academy campaign. She also supports work in the push to remove cops from schools as a CPS alumnus and member of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC) staff. Veronica’s interview provides incredible insight into teacher-student relationships, the need for affirming learning spaces, and the commitment of Chicago youth to demand more from institutions that are created to serve them. After narrating her high school experiences, she talks about specific events and protests that students in the campaign held. Through a series of personal reflections, informative storytelling, and vulnerable recollection, Veronica’s interview showcases the labor and love Black and Brown youth pour into their work.
Growing up on the city’s far Southside (Beverley and Parkway Gardens/O’Block), Catlyn witnessed the impacts of disinvestment, poverty, and inter-communal violence. In her interview, Catlyn shares incredible insight into how she views the world and the lessons she learned through her community and experiences. Although she made headlines as a determined organizer for safe school environments during the pandemic, she warns against the romanticization of youth activists. She is intentional about making movement accessible to everyone and recognizes the harm people can cause when they think they are fighting the good fight. This interview presents important considerations regarding the harmful and hierarchical dynamics that emerge in youth spaces. Catlyn calls us to not only uplift youth in our speech but ensure that our work actually factors in their voices, identities, and demands in tangible ways.
*Trigger warning for mention of self-harm*
Inspired by the incredible diversity that exists in her neighborhood of Uptown, Feker got involved with community organizing through a summer internship at AAAJ’s KINETIC group. She discusses the political education and enthusiasm she experienced in this space before talking about her work to get SROs out of schools and informing city budget creation to prioritize life-affirming institutions.