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Teens take Neighborhood Newcomers on Tour of "Real Logan Square"

LOGAN SQUARE — If Edgar Hernandez could change one thing about the Northwest side of the city, he'd stop the violence. 

"I am in fear of wearing the wrong colors and getting killed. I’m not a gangbanger, but they stare at me like I am,” Hernandez, 16, said in front of a group of community members and local students in front of Ames Middle School Saturday morning. 

"What if one day I end up like one of those teens on the news?"

The impact of violence is one of many community issues addressed by local students and youth organizers during Logan Square Neighborhood Association's second annual youth community tour Saturday morning.

During the tour, middle- and high-school-aged students involved in the program After School Matters led the group to relevant buildings and landmarks such as Unity Park and Logan Theatre and gave their perspective on issues facing the Logan Square community and surrounding neighborhoods.

In addition to violence, the kids talked about immigration reform as well as the impact of gentrification and the failings of the public school system. The tour began at Kelvyn Park High School and ended at the eagle monument.

"There was a great need for this tour," said Liliana Diaz, a co-instructor for After School Matters and the Logan Square Youth Leadership Institute. "A lot of our youths would tell us ‘There [are] new people coming to the neighborhood, and a lot of times they look at us like we’re punks and we’re just messing around.'"

"It’s not true. They’re doing great things in their schools and their community."

Diaz, 23, has been an instructor for two years, but she's been involved in youth advocacy since her senior year of high school. She has seen programs like After School Matters transform "very shy" students into "amazing" public speakers who are facilitating meetings with public officials to create change in their communities. 

For example, Diaz recalls a "very shy" student who was always "in the corner not saying a word" when she began working with youth advocacy groups. With time, she became more comfortable and eventually became a chair at Logan Square Neighborhood Association's congress last year where she facilitated a meeting for 350 people.

The students who led Saturday's tour were not shy; they shared personal anecdotes and poems to a few dozen students and community members who came along for the tour.

Eric Nava, 17, explained how gentrification affected him firsthand. His family had been living in Logan Square for around 17 years when a man bought his family's apartment in 2006 with plans to remodel the unit. The man told Eric's parents they had two months before their apartment would be demolished and the rent would increase, so Eric's family was suddenly forced to move to Humboldt Park.

"I don't think they know that because of them they start raising the prices for everything," said Nava, who goes to Prosser Career Academy in Belmont Cragin. "A lot of us kids are coming from broken families and families that are barely able to scrape by."

After his family was forced out of their Logan Square home, he "grew a hatred" for the new people who started moving into Logan Square. But he eventually "lost that hatred."

"They don't know what they're doing, they're just trying to find a place a live, like everyone is," Nava said, adding that he likes his new neighborhood of Humboldt Park more because people are friendlier.

Mark Messing, 57, an artist who came on the tour, experienced a similar fate. He said he's been pushed out of Wicker Park, Lincoln Park and now Logan Square due to gentrification over the course of the last 25 years. 

"It makes it hard to get to know your neighbors," said Messing, who now lives in a music and arts studio at Kimball Avenue and Bloomingdale Street.

For Messing, the youth community tour served as a way to meet some of his neighbors and learn about the community.

The tour also stopped at the Flatiron building at Milwaukee Avenue and Kimball Avenue, which was recently purchased by development company M. Fishman, to discuss the impact the developer has had on low-income residents.

A stop at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association office, 2840 N. Milwaukee Ave., was designed to help tour-goers understand the goal of the association. By partnering with other organizations and engaging with the community, LSNA fights for better school systems and student immigration reform.

"I find it interesting that the tour focuses on what Logan Square really is," said Ashley Martinez, 14, who became involved with After School Matters this past school year. "Rather than the gangbangers and all that."

Keywords: Gentrification, Logan Square, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, lsna, tour, Violence, youth

Posted in Youth, Education, Affordable Housing, LSNA in the Media