Past Awards Honorees Continue to Make A Big Impact

May 9, 2017
Past recipients of Bright Promises Foundation's annual Awards recognizing excellence in service to children have been making headlines recently for the remarkable impact they are making in Chicago communities and especially on behalf of our city's most vulnerable youth.

Eddie Bocanegra, the 2013 Ed Marciniak Bright Star Award recipient, is the former Executive Director of YMCA of Metro Chicago's Department of Youth Safety and Violence. In this role, Eddie created opportunities for young people who have been involved in gangs to help them break the cycle of community violence and fulfill their full promise and potential. In a recent story by WBEZ, the stories of two former gang members are shared to help shed some light on why Chicago's youth continue to reach for a gun.

Both of the young men in this story took part in a program called Urban Warriors, which is organized by the Eddia and the YMCA and connects military veterans with former and current gang members. The goal is to help Chicago’s young people cope with their own traumatic experiences.

“Many of these kids, if you tell them, ‘Have you ever been exposed to trauma,’ they don’t even know what that really means,” said Bocanegra, “And sometimes they don’t even recognize that being shot or shot at is a form of being traumatized.”

Click here to read or listen to the full story:

Mariame Kaba, who also received the 2013 Ed Marciniak Bright Star Award, has been educating Chicagoans on the prison-industrial complex and violence against black women and children in addition to organizing multiple groups and initiatives to end youth criminalization and other forms of state violence for two decades. 

Last month, a few hundred people gathered at DePaul University's Cortelyou Commons to hear Mariame Kaba speak about how the state criminalizes poor, black, and/or transgender women and youth.

According to Kaba, the current political moment presents both challenges and opportunities. Although there's newfound fervor for organized resistance, "I think we're gonna have to fight on multiple grounds," she said. "I think we're gonna have to fight against the receding of certain [policies and protections] that people think are useful while also never forgetting that we have to fight against the state violence, which is only going to get worse under this administration."

Kaba advocated continued analysis of emerging problems and emerging solutions, lest activist energies get co-opted into proposals that continue to marginalize, exclude, and criminalize people.

Click here to read more about Kaba's speech:

Past recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Awards also continue to make significant contributions to the child-serving community.

Author and journalist Alex Kotlowitz, the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, has created a new podcast series produced by WBEZ Chicago's Colin McNulty called Written Inside about life inside a maximum-security prison cell.

Adapted from essays written at Stateville Correctional Center near Chicago, these intimate stories speak to the everyday experience of being incarcerated and offer a powerful insight into what it is like for a young person who is incarcerated in their late teens to grow up in prison.

In a recent episode, one prisoner shares, "My cell is notable for what is not there rather than what is. My cell is without a criminal. I’m now 61. The young ruffian who came into this cell ready to take on the world died a long time ago."

Click here to listen to the Written Inside podcast:

Bryan Samuels, Executive Director of University of Chicago's Chapin Hall and the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, is leading the first ever study of exactly how many kids and teens are without a home around the country. 

There are an estimated 2 million homeless teenagers in the United States, and an estimated 20,000 of them are right here on the streets of Chicago.

The goal of this initiative is to link evidence and action by capturing the experiences of runaway, unaccompanied homeless and unstably housed youth, more clearly defining the size of the population and scope of the issue, and driving compelling knowledge into the hands of the broad national community dedicated to ending youth homelessness.

Click here to watch a recent interview with Bryan Samuels about this project: