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Youth groups rally for jobs at State House

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Youth groups rally for jobs at State House
Allahdra Mattocks addresses youth activists in front of the State House. BANNER PHOTO

For Allahdra Mattocks, her job with the La Collaborativa nonprofit in Chelsea is a lifeline. Like many teens who work, she uses the proceeds of her after-school job to help support her family.

Last Thursday, she joined scores of other teen activists from across the state in a rally at the State House to press for more funding for teen jobs.

“I want them to give kids opportunities, youth jobs, so they can help their families,” she said of the legislators she and other teens were preparing to petition. “I know a lot of people who want jobs but have a hard time finding work that works with their school schedule.”

Youth groups organized by the I Have A Future Coalition are raising their voices not only on employment, but a host of other issues.

In addition to increasing a line item in the state budget for youth jobs, the young activists are calling for the inclusion of 18–20-year-olds under the age of juvenile jurisdiction; lowering the voting age to 16; expanding access to affordable housing; and re-envisioning school safety.

Many of the teens who turned out bore signs calling for the removal of uniformed police officers from schools.

“I don’t know why we have police in our schools,” said Arianna Marquez, a student at Greater Lawrence Technical School, a regional vocational school in Andover. “We’re not doing anything. I’d feel better off if they weren’t there.”

Marquez said many students in her school and at Lawrence High School are traumatized by police.

“It can be triggering to have them in school,” she said.

The teens at the rally generally said there aren’t enough resources in their communities for them to thrive, noting the absence of school libraries, counselors and other critical supports.

“I’m going to graduate this year,” said Chelsea resident Cleny Reyes. “I need resources to have a better future.”

Sen. Liz Miranda speaks to youth activists in the Great Hall of Flags in the State House. BANNER PHOTO

After rallying in front of the State House, the teen activists filed into the building, meeting with legislators in the Great Hall of Flags.

State Sen. Liz Miranda, who addressed the teens, told the Banner she’s fairly confident the Legislature can increase the line item for youth jobs from $22 million — where funding has stayed for the last four years — to the $33 million the teens are asking for.

“Because of inflation, and because we know youth jobs are so important, their demand is not unreasonable,” she said.

Miranda noted that when was a teenager, her job working for the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative was the doorway to her future.

“I think it really saved my life,” Miranda said of her job. “My mother worked 16-hour days. “I used the money to buy my school clothes. I helped out my mother and my grandmother.”

Miranda’s early employment as a youth organizer, first with DSNI and then with the Center for Teen Empowerment, helped prepare her for future jobs in the nonprofit sector and, eventually, the State House.

“I’ve been very active in my community because of the opportunities I had as a 13-year-old,” she said.

At-large City Councilor Julia Mejia, who also addressed the teens, sponsored a home rule petition in Boston that would lower the voting age in Boston to 16 — the same goal the teens are looking to accomplish statewide. Her legislative aide, Sarah Lawton, was with the I Have A Future Coalition in 2016, advocating for the same policy.

“Young people are working, paying taxes,” Mejia said. “Some of them are more civically engaged than their parents. Everybody talks about how they’re our future. They’re our here and now.”

I Have A Future Coalition, liz miranda, youth jobs