CHICAGO (WLS) --Local lawmakers are trying to make strides toward improving the plight of youth in crime-ridding neighborhoods in Chicago.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, spoke with Chicago youth on Monday about surviving street violence at the South Side's John Hope High School. He talk followed a meeting with the U.S. Attorney General and federal enforcement officials.
"Folks are trying to get a handle about what life in the neighborhood is leading to this terrible number of shootings," Durbin told the youth.
The senator talked with students participating in the City Year program to hear their experiences trying to survive neighborhood violence.
"A lot has happened to me. I've even been shot at myself," said student Amari Ross.
"I know a bunch of people that gangbang but it never really affected me because I'm very independent. I set goals for myself," student Juwann Lacy said.
Durbin said the meet was important to understanding how to reclaim Chicago's violence-plagued neighborhoods.
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Later on Monday, Congressman Bobby Rush, D-Chicago, blamed unemployment for violence in Chicago
"That's the cause of all the pain that we're experiencing today," Rush said.
To reduce joblessness, Rush and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Bronzeville's Dunbar High School would offer a construction trades training program for kids who choose not to go to college.
"To make sure every child in Chicago knows they have something next and we have a system set up for them," Emanuel said.
The program is aimed, in large part, at increasing the small number of African-American workers on construction projects around the city. It's unclear whether racism and nepotism play a role in the low numbers.
"I can't comment on that but what I will comment on is that we are going forth correctly from here on out and we have been doing it in the past," said Don Finn, of the IBEW Local 134.
Sen. Durbin said he does believe nepotism had been a factor in keeping Chicago's skilled trades predominantly white.
"Let's be honest about it: fathers have sons that they want to have in the same union and that perpetuates whatever the profile was in that union. It's going to be in the next generation, too," Durbin said.
Durbin declined comment when asked if the federal government should investigate alleged nepotism and/or racism in Chicago's skilled trade unions.
Both Emanuel and Rush said the unions are serious about diversifying their membership.