By TONIA HILL
With input from teens, members of the community, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the Park District, and the University of Chicago and Chicago police departments are working together to create teen-centered activities in preparation for youth that will come to the neighborhood to celebrate Halloween.
The first in series of meetings to plan for Halloween was held on Thursday, Jan. 18 at the Harper Court Building. The first session served as a debriefing session where business owners, community members and University and Chicago Police shared their experiences on Halloween night.
No decisions on activities or events were made at the meeting. However, Eric Reaves, program manager of the South East Chicago Commission and director of SSA #61 said the goal this year is to have more engagement between the business community in Hyde Park and the youth.
“You change the narrative and show them positives on how they can interact with the youth,” Reaves said about local business owners.
“What we have to figure out is how we can help businesses who are not normally being patronized by teenagers [so that] they can win as well,” said Wallace Goode, executive director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce.
Last year, Hyde Park residents collaborated to form a creative and constructive space for teens that visit Hyde Park on Halloween.
In total, about 130 adult volunteers wearing bright orange shirts were stationed on 53rd Street from Lake Park Avenue to Dorchester Avenue on the weekend before Halloween and on Halloween night.
Hyde Park Teen Halloween, as it was called, included activities such as $5 horror movies, at Harper Theatre as well as a video game truck. Some retailers such as Chipotle also offered discount coupons to teens.
Alds. Sophia King (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) also held a joint event on the Midway but it was not received well by teens because they preferred to stay on 53rd Street.
The planning for last year was done just eight weeks before Halloween. By starting the planning months earlier, the group is hoping to have a different outcome than the two previous Halloweens.
The planned activities did not stop the chaos from occurring this year. Those that volunteered stated that a more comprehensive list of activities would be essential for Halloween last year.
“The key there is having real activities for volunteers to help engage the kids,” said Dr. Rachel Miriam Cane, Hyde Park resident, following the meeting. “It was challenging as volunteers to engage one-on-one having real activities will make a lot more people comfortable and able to volunteer.”
Last year, nearly 400 teens showed up on 53rd Street on Halloween. Brawls, egg throwing, confiscation of BB guns and several arrests were made during the night, according to eyewitnesses.
A similar posting was made on social media, just like 2016, about a Halloween gathering in Hyde Park. In 2016, the notice posted on social media that called for a “Halloween Purge” and named Hyde Park as the designated area for the “purge.”
Hyde Park is a central location in the city and one reason why teens come to the area in droves on Halloween. Parents are also comfortable with their children being in the neighborhood.
In 2017, two teenage boys were arrested for aggravated battery to a police officer after being asked by University of Chicago Police officers to leave the scene, the teens the hit police officers unprovoked according to Chicago Police.
Another teen stuck a victim in the head with a BB gun.
Two others teenage boys were charged with Armed Robbery.
There were not as many arrests or reports of damage to property last year as there were in 2016.
In 2016, 1,500 young people gathered in Hyde Park on 53rd Street and other areas of the neighborhood on Halloween and the weekend prior.
Mobs of young people, from outside of the neighborhood, roamed the streets and damaged property, which resulted in multiple arrests.
Following 2016’s “purge,” residents were concerned about its outcome and wanted to know what they could do to create a positive space for teens coming into the neighborhood for Halloween.
Halloween 2016 was the catalyst for creating a constructive space for teens the goal was not to advertise the events but to prepare for the influx of teens that come to the neighborhood every year.
At the conclusion of Halloween 2017, community members formed the organization, “Teens on 53rd.”
“We didn’t have an organization it was a grassroots groundswell that coalesced around this issue,” said Cane, who is also a member of the organization. “Once we had Halloween and found that the orange shirt strategy was so effective we wanted to formalize and have an organization that could best support an event like this happening in the future.”
Teens on 53rd would also support other events outside of Halloween.
Most at the meeting last week expressed the desire for Hyde Park to be a safe and welcoming place for teens.
“We think it’s important because they’re going to come regardless of what we do or don’t do. Planning it as an event is the way to do it,” Reaves said.
The group hopes to put that to the test in planning for the 4th on 53rd Parade.
There is an opportunity said Goode to have teen-centered events at the annual parade this year.
One interesting idea that surfaced during the meeting was to consider Halloween as a street festival event like other special events, such as the Silver Room Block Party that is held on 53rd Street.
“The clear thinking from this meeting is that teen Halloween needs to be a full-on street festival event,” Cane said. “It needs to be teen-led full of teen initiative with adults supporting teens to make it a successful event.”
Reaves added, “We’re gravitating toward that because that’s the only way you can control it.”
LaKeisha Hamilton, a Hyde Park resident and youth practitioner activist in the community, said she loved the idea of Halloween becoming a neighborhood festival.
“The street [would be] blocked off, there are no cars, and we could move freely,” Hamilton said. “I feel like that would allow for more activities.”
Teens from neighborhood high schools such as Hyde Park Academy High School, Kenwood Academy High School, and King College Prep High School will become a part of the planning process at a later date. No teens were present at the meeting on Thursday.
Hamilton also pointed out that it’s necessary to include teens in the process that are not from the neighborhood.
The next meeting time and date have not yet been determined.