Listen to the youth: Knowledge is power

On Wednesday, November 28, come listen to young people present what they’ve learned about civil and human rights at the Main Library, from 6:30 to 8 pm.

The teens who will be speaking have been preparing for the event since May, as part of their involvement in The Living History Project.

It’s a grant-funded initiative that brings young people together twice a week at the Main Library to learn about social justice movements and enhance their critical thinking, research, and social and emotional skills.

The project is guided by Billy “Che” Brooks, who served as deputy minister of education for the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party from 1968 to 1972.

Learning across generations

Twice a week, they meet to discuss what they’ve been reading (including The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and Eyes on the Prize by Juan Williams), to practice public speaking, and to learn from each other and from Brooks. They talk about things like the criminal justice system, the role of the Supreme Court, social justice movements, and their own life experiences.

Brooks’ role is to facilitate and motivate. “I go into each session with an open mind and allow them to direct the flow of the conversation, the things that they’re feeling,” he said.

At every session, each young person stands and speaks for several minutes on any topic. “The goal is to get better at articulating our thoughts. We all bring our experiences, and we all have value,” Brooks told the group during one session in June.

“Find out what’s going on in the world,” he said. “You all are it. You’re going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. We’ve got a lot of work to do, people.”

Zaire Brooks in Living History Project meeting

Dedicated young people

“The young people who come are dedicated,” said Middle School Services Librarian Jose Cruz. “They’re showing up an hour early for the program. That’s unheard of.”

Zaire Brooks, a senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School, said he appreciates learning from the elder Brooks (no relation). “Especially someone with that much experience on this earth, and being a man of color.”

He’s learned so much about civil rights, human rights, and social justice, he said. “And I get to see that through Mr. Brooks. Knowledge really is power. You can do things with knowledge. And once you have it, no one can take that from you.”