Project Soapbox

It's called "Project Soapbox." High school students from around the city compete in a public speaking competition. We take you to an early round on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm.

At high schools around the city, students give speeches on topics from child abuse to gay rights to teen unemployment. They are hoping to make the final round of Project Soapbox, a public speaking competition sponsored by the non-partisan Mikva Challenge, which works to develop teen political involvement and civic awareness. We meet the competitors from Brooks College Prep High School on the South Side.

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The students were asked to write a speech about the issue they think is most important to their community. Out of the 22 speeches delivered by the students at Brooks College Prep, three were chosen by the judges to go on to the semifinals, which will be held on Nov. 19. Read the three winning speeches below.

Steffani Robinson on Poverty

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m hoping all had a good night’s sleep last night, in a warm house with dinner at night, right? Well, we’d all like to believe that every child in this school out there, or even in the world, didn’t have to sleep on the streets. We’d all like to believe that every child had at least one meal last night. Well, sorry to break it you but, no! One out of every 4th child goes to bed hungry at night. Today, we will be discussing a very serious issue affecting America, which is poverty. 

Steffani Robinson

What people fail to realize, or tend to turn their heads to, is that 35% of Americans are affected by poverty. So this means that a third of Americans may not have food, may not have medical care, or may not even have the basic necessities to survive. So many people take it for granted, and that’s what bothers me, as it should you. We, as Americans, are always striving for “the bigger and the better.” When we fail to notice that there’s people out there who don’t even have the basics.

But the real reason why this is such a big issue is because so many people have fallen victim to it. Did you know that 32.6 million adults are suffering out there? As well as 20.2 million kids going through it as well?

So I need you to start participating in food drives. Donate money, old clothes, or even unused books. Volunteer your time, or maybe even join a charity. You can become a sponsor to well-meaning organizations. What sponsors do is they inform people about the kind of charity they’re involved in, or they may support the charity financially. Or maybe you could involve your organization. For example, you can involve your work places, your parents, social groups, or even your place of worship. Just get involved, PLEASE!

This is all important to us because, whether you’re poverty stricken or not, this affects our country. Half of our fellow neighbors and associates may be struggling out there. A wise person once told me that America has enough food to feed the entire world. So, if we can feed the entire world, then how come people are still hungry at night? How come there’s people who don’t even have a roof over their head and food to eat? As I stand here and ask you please, open up your eyes to what’s really going on, and help out our people, our country. Thank you.

Squire Prince on Child Abuse

Good Morning everyone. Today, I am here to talk about a very important subject: Child Abuse. Now let’s take a journey into an abusive home. You walk in the door and you see Papa hitting 2-year-old Christine repeatedly. What was once brown, flowing hair is now dripping with blood. Her blue sparkling eyes are now black and bloody. Her arms are bruised from top to bottom, her legs are trembling in fear, and tears are running down her face as she screams “No daddy”, “stop, please”, “I won’t do it anymore”, “I’m sorry."  But Papa continues to hit, and yell, and hit, and yell.

Squire PrinceNow let’s go back 10 minutes earlier. Papa had just came home from work.  He came in and dropped his stuff at the door, went to the kitchen, got a few beers, and went to the living room to watch the game. As he was falling on the couch, he felt a painful pierce in his back; it was Christine’s favorite doll, Samantha. He threw the doll at the dog, and found Christine and beat her. Stories like this are told every day. In 2009, 3.3 million child abuse cases were filed, involving 6 million children. Five or more children die every day. And 80% of those children are under the age of 4.

Already you can see the heart-breaking tale of these children’s cases. But we pay it no mind, and these children cry every night wishing to run away. When a child is abused, it takes away their dignity, their self pride, and sometimes their life. It has been shown that an abuse report is made every 10 seconds. Now let’s sit here for 5 seconds, which is only half of that, and see how fast that can go. (waits 5 seconds).

Recently, a child abuse report has been written up somewhere. Since 1998, the abuse-related death toll has gone up 1.87 deaths, doesn’t sound like a lot right? But remember, America is a huge mass of land, and that can average out to almost a million children. Recently, a toll was taken and 78.3% of children, child abuse cases were that of neglect, averaging about 771,700 children. And also, 10.8% of child abuse cases were that of physical abuse.

Of the men sitting in prison right now, 14% of them were abused as children, and of the women, 36% of them were abused. So child abuse is not a subject to be taken lightly, or joked around with because it’s nothing but pain and suffering day-by-day.

So what are you going to do to help end child abuse? Are you just going to sit back, and pay it no mind and let these children suffer? Waking up from their nightmares crying because big daddy doesn’t know how to control his liquor? There are organizations to help with these types of cases. If you want to end child abuse, donate, volunteer, or if you can, speak out. Speak out to your peers, to your parents, to your neighbors; anyone you can, because this shouldn’t be taken as just another problem. It only takes you picking up the phone, donating some time, or just talking to and comforting a victim. Don’t put these children on hold, help them.

This is important to us all because these children suffer, these children that are suffering were going to become someone great to help us, as an individual, as a state, or even as a country. It takes the act of one abusive parent to mentally “screw up” who was inspiring to be that one president, the one female president, the one Latino president, the one Russian president, or who was going to be that one doctor that was going to have that lifesaving cure.  But now that child is likely to end up in prison, immobilized, or in the grave. Let’s end it today. Help me end this long-bearing chain of child abuse, and speak out. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Thank you!

Perla Rodriguez on Immigration

I am one of the 12 million immigrants that are unauthorized to be in the United States legally. Yes. I am a natural born citizen of the United States. But as much as I am American, I am also an immigrant. We are not criminals nor leeches of this great political system. We are human beings just like you coming here to get a better life and make something of ourselves.

Perla RodriguezBefore my father became a citizen, he used to work long and strenuous days in a field, hand-picking jalapenos, tomatoes, apples etc. He had to meet a demand of 133 buckets of vegetables a day without a proper break or working conditions to earn 40 cents a bucket. He ran a risk of developing cancer due to the pesticides that are used to grow crops properly. Until this day, thousands of immigrants have to deal with the same fate to bring the vegetables we eat to our table.

Illegal immigrants are the reason why some foods or some products have not gone into inflation. Americans think we come to this country just for the fun of it. No, we come to this country because in our native country there are not enough jobs to feed our families. Crossing the border is not a joy ride; many people may die from dehydration, may get raped, may get abandoned by coyotes, or may not even make it to the dreamland. Furthermore, every penny that they spend or that they make comes into the local and international economy. One of the things that immigrants get accused of is not pay taxes, but they actually do. The IRS gives immigrants a special number starting with a 9 so that they can report their income taxes. Of the 94% of immigrants that pay taxes, none of them file for return. No matter how much an illegal immigrant works, he or she will never see a benefit check from social security. He will have to work till the day he dies.

Another thing is we also have the wrong conception that we absorb all our resources. When in fact, only 2% of immigrants have used welfare and only 3% have ever used food stamps. When it is time for deportation, many immigrants face unfair treatment from ICE officials and their children get left in the care of orphanages.

It hurts when one of my classmates say they do not care. It hurts when we suddenly forget that one of our ancestors were immigrants. It hurts when the federal government knows about the accusations and does not say a word. It should be a concerning matter to all Americans because it is estimated that $94 billion is spent deporting illegal immigrants. When in fact illegal immigrants will contribute $80,000 more to the government than he consumes in services. That money that is spent on deportation can be used to create more jobs, improve education, make better roads and just make everyone’s life better.

Many families are separate and children do not have the proper guidance to become role model citizens. Every day the hostility toward immigrants grows and creates more violence. Does it have to come to the point where it becomes a modern day genocide to create awareness? Who are we to deny the right to come to this country, when all of us have the American dream and all of us are immigrants one way or another?

To finalize my point, I ask you my fellow classmates to be more open-minded to every issue that is put on the table. One day, that could be us on the other side. How do we know that the immigrant that is being deported could be the person that solves HIV or other diseases? But we will never know because they do not have the resources at home.

I ask you to exercise your right to vote because we are the future of this great nation. Get informed about the presidential candidates, so when it is time to vote we actually choose a president who works for us and not for Wall Street. Finally, try to be understanding of everybody’s viewpoint because that gives us a new perspective on life. You will respect my voice as I will respect yours. I stand before you, a proud daughter of an immigrant.

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