Turning Lemons Into Lemonade: The Chicago Defender Celebrates Young Entrepreneurship
By Mary L. Datcher
Senior Staff Writer
Chicago’s summer brings us weather, hot fun and is often the time to let our hair down and enjoy the outdoors.
Summer can also motivate a seasonal hustle that allows inner-city youth to take over a corner in a positive way — from selling bottled water to raising funds for their best Bud Billiken Parade outfit.
No matter how you see it, the warm weather can ignite a spark of entrepreneurship that reflects the opposite of what can sometimes be a fearful summer of violence.
The Chicago Defender has had a long history of advocating entrepreneurship from the early days of recruiting young paper boys delivering newspapers to doorsteps throughout the city to our readers to highlighting the best and brightest in the business world. The paper’s Founder Robert Sengstacke Abbott provided a solid platform to this mission that stands strong today.
We move into our 111th year as the oldest African-American publication in the country, and one of the Chicago Defender’s priorities include supporting Lemonade Day — a national youth program. The event takes place on Saturday, June 11, focused on the West Side at Garfield Park and on the South Side at Mandrake Park.
Encouraging Kids to Become Entrepreneurs
Chicago Defender’s Publisher and President, Cheryl Mainor, is excited about this year’s Lemonade Day festivity in bringing young people together to be part of this important community affair.
“It is a fantastic program which encourages children to develop an interest in owning and running a business. When many of us think back on our childhood, we can recall fondly, an experience of having a Kool-Aid or lemonade stand out in front of our house,” she said. As we move into another summer, she says sadly, for many of the children of Chicago the probability of having a lemonade stand outside is unlikely.
The Chicago Defender’s desire in developing this program in this hybrid form as a group event was to provide that opportunity to the children of Chicago.
Mainor says, “Many of our children are naturally entrepreneurial, they are naturally bright and gifted and creative. This program gives them the opportunity to really develop and utilize critical thinking skills, to practice planning skills, use their creativity and then produce and market their product, which is their lemonade stand, and then see the results of their hard work.
Getting the Word out
The task of putting Lemonade Day together on the same day on completely different sides of the city is not easy. Chicago Defender’s Special Events staff has partnered with the Chicago Park District to get the word out about this free program.
Through schools, community organizations and local churches they encourage the children to sign up ranging from 5 years to 14 years old.
Pastor Chris Harris of Brightstar Church in Bronzeville wholeheartedly supports the program.
“This gives Urban youth not only to focus on employment but also push towards focusing on entrepreneurship, and that’s important for our young people.
Even in our low-economic downturn, we motivate our kids through difficult times to ‘make lemonade out of the lemons’,” said Pastor Harris. “In other words, we give them the opportunity to see that you can still make the best out of a bad situation.”
The Chicago Defender sponsors Lemonade Day through providing materials and supplies when necessary for any participants who needs it. Mainor explains, “We don’t want there to be any hindrance to them being a part of Lemonade Day. For several kids, this will be their second or third time as a “kidpreneur” on Lemonade Day, and they are already looking forward to it,” she said. “Each year, their booths become a little more elaborate and their creativity and business skills grow in amazing ways.”
Before he became the alderman for the 24th Ward, Alderman Michael Scott Jr. worked for years as the Chicago Park District manager. He feels the morale of the kids is a driving force behind programs such as Lemonade Day to recognize their skills in different ways.
“Lemonade Days is a great way to spark the entrepreneurial spirit in young people. Now, in its second year at Garfield Park, this event gives the youth in our community an opportunity to showcase their creativity, planning skills, and the ability to manage their own finances. Hopefully, we will find the West Side’s next Bob Johnson or Madame CJ Walker,” Scott said.
The feedback from last year’s event was a positive and tremendous rate of return. The day is filled with family oriented activities, including music and free hot dog giveaways. Organizations sponsor the various participating youth teams, and most are returning this year to support the kids’ efforts. It has become a way for small businesses to connect with the community in a safe environment.
“The great thing is that many of the kids make their own teams to really capitalize on their resources, and they take their brand, their product and their sales very seriously. It is so heartwarming to see how business minded these kids really are. We also provide lots of praise and hugs for each of our kidpreneurs. It goes a long way, and it matters a great deal,” Mainor said.
As the Senior Pastor at Brightstar Church, Pastor Harris and his team administer several programs that employ over one hundred youth during the summer as well as provide employment for adults during the CPS Safe Passage school program in the Bronzeville community.
Supporting programs such as Lemonade Day is a launching pad for young people to understand the value and meaning of enterprise in their community — the necessity of economic growth within.
“What I believe the youth in our community need is opportunity and an expanded point of reference — that’s what we lack. Where there is a lack of opportunity and where there is a limited point of reference, you will always get crime and violence. I’m grateful that our young people get to see what the need is to go after something better,” he said.
Expanding Across City
Since the Chicago Defender first committed to hosting Lemonade Day in our parking lot two years ago — it has become a strong commitment to expand the program across the entire city. In talks with the City of Chicago, the paper has received requests to apply the same platform to other parks for next year.
Organizations such as the Rainbow PUSH Coalition have pledged to assist in bringing more faith institutions to host the program at their church.
“It’s a win-win for the children and the community. Each year, we have had more and more support from businesses, corporations, banks and our local elected officials who have all pitched to lend a hand in making the program a success. We are also working on some special guest appearances at both events to really excite and inspire the kids.”
There is still time for parents to get their kids signed up at either Mandrake Park, 901 E. Pershing or Garfield Park, 300 N. Central Park Ave. Organizations seeking to sponsor a youth group or host an event can call the Chicago Defender office. All kids are welcome, but advance sign-up is required.
As the publisher for one of the leading Black newspapers in the country, Mainor understands the climate of the job market and feels there is more to do in the community.
“If we can support this generation of up-and-coming entrepreneurs, if we can light the spark that brings new businesses within the next 10 years, then we have done a great thing for the future of our children and for the future of Chicago,” she said.
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