A mostly-anonymous group of youth activists who have come together in the wake of a recent graffiti arrest say the fact that the word 'BORED' has been spray-painted all over the city should be a message.
"Our team got the message that the Sault’s youth are bored. Art is a message and that’s the message our community should be receiving,” said Amanda Jabbour, one of the named representatives of the Facebook group Boredyouthsault and who has a background in working with at-risk youth.
Jabbour, 24, said the group, now at more than 300 members, was formed a couple days after the arrest of an 18-year-old male accused of being responsible for 40 of the prevalent 'BORED' pieces but have no official affiliation with him.
She said they’re mostly made up teenagers though also include business owners, social workers, activists, and other people of all ages.
Because of the controversial nature of the graffiti issue they’re remaining mostly anonymous so that their page can act as a safe place to discuss graffiti and problems that youth are struggling with.
With the recent arrest, and recent talk that city council may create a new anti-graffiti bylaw that would require hiring another bylaw officer, Jabbour said BoredyouthSault thinks that time and resources would be better spent on creating ‘youth engagement’ and, in particular, the construction of a youth walk-in center.
“It's not that we believe that vandalizing property is the moral thing to do but too many resources are spent depressing youth and basically money is being misspent rather then being used toward a youth center that engages them to have productive outlets and a safe atmosphere. That’s where the money should be spent.”
Jabbour grew up in downtown Sault Ste. Marie in difficult socioeconomic conditions and she says that before heading on her current path to achieve a masters degree in social work studies that she was exactly the ‘bored youth’ her group is trying to engage.
She said as a teenager she was involved in substance abuse, illegal activities, and just a generally destructive lifestyle.
‘When I was 19 years old I hit a really dark moment in my life where I didn’t have a stable home or job and friends around me were dying from drug overdoses and suicide and I decided I didn’t want to continue with the life I was living because I would have ended up the same way and so I got clean and sober and went to college.’
She was lucky to have a supportive family that could help her out but, considering not everyone has that, or the life circumstances that spurred her to get on a clean path, she thinks a youth center would be a good way to help keep youth on a positive path toward being contributing and productive members of the Sault.
“Youth centres are great. They have computers accessible to kids that might not have them at home and child and youth workers available to do activities. Instead of going out and doing drugs and getting into trouble (youth) come into the centre and talk it out with a social worker,” she said.
“Our youth are our future and one day they are going to be taking care of us and our baby boomers and Sault Ste. Marie – if they even stay here. I think having a youth center would help youth want to stay here because they are going to feel like they belong, that their voices are being heard, and that they have a place to go."
Jabbour said job conditions in Sault Ste Marie and lack of more infrastructure like skate parks and bike lanes, are also part of the reason why youth are bored.
The group also thinks that youth should be participants in the graffiti discussion at city hall and that a youth centre could help as a place for them to organize.
“It's highly important that youth become important in decision making and systemic procedures such as the new bylaw that is aimed at youth who are vandalizing private property because they’re bored. The best way to make decisions that are going to be impacting already oppressed youth is to have them involved in the discussion. If we had a youth centre, that’s where they could work out of and they could share their stories and be noticed,” she said.
Kurtis Stone, of Queen Street East, faces 41 counts of mischief under $5,000 and two counts of break and enter.
The group is holding a peaceful ‘WeAreBORED’ rally on Monday at 9 a.m. to coincide with Stone’s first court appearance.
Jabbour said that even though the gathering is ”in solidarity to support Kurt Stone” they don’t feel it is appropriate to comment on whether he should be held legally responsible or not and the focus of the gathering will be promoting ‘youth engagement’ in the Sault.
“The gathering is because our group doesn’t feel there should be another bylaw. There are oppressive systems put in place that prevent youth from succeeding. There are not a lot of opportunities in Sault Ste. Marie for young people to succeed and better themselves. We have to stop turning our heads away from the real issue here — that our youth are bored,“ she said.