As youth programs dwindle, one local group is putting a spotlight on the city's young entertainers
Citizens United for Harvey's Youth wants to affirm young people, whom they say have been pushed into invisibility. "It is our position as parents, former educators and citizens of Harvey that amidst the political struggles that Harvey has faced, the needs of the children have been disregarded."
What do rapper Lupe Fiasco, Saturday Night Live, and the Super Bowl all have in common? Harvey. The city boasts a vibrant arts, culture, and entertainment scene that’s catapulted lyricists to the Grammy’s and produced knee-slapping comedians. Most recently, millions watched as Harvey native Rob Gueringer rocked out on the guitar alongside Eminem and Dr. Dre at the 2022 Super Bowl.
As manufacturing plants closed and disinvestment and political corruption have fueled population decline, blightedness became the city’s narrative. All the while, the city morphed into a beacon for gymnastics, football, wrestling, jazz band, theatre arts, and Hip-Hop for Black and Brown youth.
But, the city doesn’t have a plethora of performance venues like more affluent south suburbs like Tinley Park or Orland Park.
That’s where Citizens United for Harvey’s Youth, or CUFYH1, comes in. The newly launched community group, composed of Harvey parents and former educators, is throwing a back-to-school talent show for the city’s youth.
Families can head to the outer campus of Universal Baptist Church, located at 163 156th Street—or Alderman Taylor Way—to catch the show, August 20. The event will be held from 12:30pm to 5:00pm. With the school year nearing, there will also be free supplies, haircuts, basic health screenings, and prizes.
“It is our hopes that by providing a platform for the children to showcase their talents, we can help improve their self-worth and esteem. We aim to openly acknowledge them and shower them with positive accolades as many of them have never been celebrated prior,” event organizers said in an email to the HWH.
Faith-based organization Restoration Ministries boasts the city’s Sullivan Arts Center, youth boxing club, and blackbox theatre. Thornton’s speech and drama program is highly regarded, finishing third at the 2022 state competition.
But today, Harvey’s youth programming pales in comparison to the breadth of options available during the early aughts. Out-migration and depressed finances forced many programs to cease or scale down operations.
The internationally recognized Harvey Twisters wrestling team hasn’t been active in at least seven years. The Harvey Colts football squad have scaled down its games, and it's been years since fans filled the stands of Lexington Park, once home to championship pee-wee baseball games.
So, Derek Atchison, a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher, founded CUFHY1 in May with local author Latrice Rattler and Cassandra Dawkins-Jackson, owner of an event planning agency.
“The parks are riddled with garbage, the grass isn’t maintained, the benches are dry, rotted and falling apart. It wasn’t enough that the YMCA was allowed to close, but what’s more sinister is the fact that the “community center” has a chain and padlock on it,” the group chided, a reference to the 2019 closure of Harvey’s community center, which was met with criticism from some residents.
City officials shuttered the building due to black mold. There are no plans to open the facility in the near future due to health concerns, said Mayor Chris Clark.
“That building should be used to facilitate programs for the children that live in the area,” CUFHY1 believes. Political leaders haven’t made children a priority, and the city’s arts and entertainment scene has fallen through the cracks, organizers added. “Clearly, the opportunity to identify, explore, and cultivate the children’s talents is not a priority for the community of Harvey and therefore it is no longer considered or even acknowledged.”
“In essence, we all have neglected the children; those who have the power to enact change, as well as those of us who recognize change needs to happen.”
Chicago native De’Borah, who was a contestant on season three of NBC’s The Voice, will host the group’s talent show, which CUFHY1 hopes will become an annual “love driven event,” organizers said.
“We are certainly preparing ourselves to do so. Hopefully, someone who shares our
love and passion for the youth would reach out and join us in our efforts.”
Got talent? Sign up for the talent show by reaching out to CUFHY1 via email at CUFHY1@outlook.com or text them at (708) 713-5802.
You can also register using their eventbrite link here.
Follow the group on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.
And, they’re looking for vendors, donors, and volunteers to get involved. Use the same email address or phone number to reach out.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that De-Borah was a Harvey native. De’Borah is a Chicago native.
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