The Cairo Project -- a report by the students of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

We Need Jobs, part 1 We Need Jobs, part 2 Download PDF
We Need Jobs.
Impounded car.

Photo by Derek Anderson.

A young woman attempts to console her boyfriend after they found out how much it would cost to get his car back after it
was impounded.

Story by Nick Wolf and Scott Fowler

Part One

Typical teenagers spend their free time at the mall, the movie theater, at work or on the gridiron for fall football practice. Youth in Cairo don't have those opportunities.

Chris, a high school student and resident of the McBride housing project, spends his free time skateboarding because the football team at Cairo High School has been disbanded.

“We need football back,” he says.

Students hanging out in a park agree on the need for more sports. It's after school hours and most of the boys are playing basketball; a group of girls is watching.

“All we have is basketball and track,” one student says.

As for the future, one of the biggest problems young people face is the lack of jobs. One student, Ramon, wants to join the Army Reserve and then attend Marquette University. Everyone in the group talks of wanting to go to college.

But the brutal statistics show almost none will get there and fewer still will stay.

One student who has a better chance than many is T.J. Ellis, a 16-year-old sophomore at Cairo High School, who says he wants to major in pre-med at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after he graduates. He is ranked first in his high school class. T.J. has an older sister, Renee, who is a graduate student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and wants to be a lawyer.

“I would like to have activities and stuff, but after awhile you just get used to it,” T.J. says. “Anything new would make me happy.”

T.J.'s aunt Gwendolyn Walker says that family structure has a lot to do with why kids are the way they are today, in Cairo and elsewhere.

“Family foundation is broken down,” she said. “They don't want to be around the family a lot.”

Ms Walker adds that many of the teenagers in Cairo with cars, or access to them, travel to nearby Cape Girardeau, Mo. or Paducah, Ky. to find things to do.

T.J.'s father, Tommy Ellis, a former track, basketball and football coach at Cairo Jr. High and the high school speaks of the importance of working with young people. “We can touch the future,” he says. “If you don't touch the future, then you will be doomed by your past.”

Jump to part 2