At the end of two hours of often emotional, powerful discussion Saturday on youth issues in Richmond – covering education, outreach, violence and fear — the resounding consensus was a need for more: Richmond needs more outlets for talking with, to and about its youth.
“This is the type of dialogue we need more of,” said Doug Harris, a longtime Richmond resident who was filming the event.
More than two dozen people braved stormy weather Saturday afternoon to speak openly about youth issues in Richmond at a forum in the Madelaine Whittlesey Community Room, next to the Richmond Library.
Hosted by Bill Say, who has a private practice specializing in organizational development, the forum featured nine guest speakers including Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, students from Richmond High School’s Law Academy and spoken word artist group RAW Talent.
Say, who said he has been interested in the city and youth issues for a while, decided to offer a time and place for the conversation to take place, with the help of Angela Cox, who is the teen librarian at the Richmond Public Library.
“The testimony from the young people had a lot to offer to us as service providers and how, in some cases, we may have missed the mark,” she said.
Split about in half between adults and youth participants, the conversation centered on reaching youth in the community.
DeAndre Evans, who performed with Raw Talent, said when he was in school programs and services weren’t presented to him in a way that connected to his interests.
“I didn’t know about community centers in Richmond,” he said. “You have to push things. You have to get somebody who is like us.”
Third generation Richmond resident Ardarius McDonald, the student dean at Berkeley High School, said it wasn’t until he left that he could appreciate how his time in Richmond had shaped him.
Now, working with youth, McDonald said he sees that adults sometimes fear young people in Richmond, but he stressed the importance of making a point to show success is possible.
“Regardless of titles, you’re an adult,” he said to the audience. “We have to show and model for the youth.”
Some of that testimony pulled together different parts of the community who would not normally talk to one another.
Spoken word artist Donte Clark touched on the logistical challenges facing youth from different neighborhoods in Richmond.
Young people who grow up in North Richmond, for example, do not feel safe traveling to other parts of the city, he said.
Richmond Police Sgt. Eddie Russell, who serves as the Youth Resource Officer Supervisor at the high schools in the district, jumped in asking what he, as someone who grew up in Richmond, could do to decrease the violence.
“A lot of this stuff is generational,” Evans said and suggested that Russell find a way to bring together all of the community to a neutral ground to discuss long-standing conflicts.
But he also cautioned that this has been the way of life for many years and change could be hard.
“Even if you resolve the violence we need jobs, we need teachers that care about us,” he said. “If you can’t do that part than it won’t matter.”
Cox said she hopes to see the forum continue.
“It would be great to have more buy-in from young people,” she said. “We need to be the observers. We know there are problems; we don’t know how to address them.”