“What’s wrong with kids today?” It’s a cliché you often hear voiced by adults who can’t understand why boys wear their pants around their knees or why girls dye their hair pink and pierce their faces.
However, in Richmond, a new model for adult-youth conversation is starting to emerge. On Saturday, more than 100 people gathered at City Hall for a Youth Summit sponsored by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.
“Without the voice of youth, we all suffer in the city,” McLaughlin said.
In the foyer, tables were laid out with information for young people on drug prevention, local theater classes and mentoring—all fairly standard fare for adult conversations with kids.
But, the summit also pushed youth to engage with ideas like participatory budgeting, city politics, and barefoot leadership: the idea that ordinary citizens and young people can become community leaders.
In one conference room, students—aged 13 to 24—from local schools and colleges participated in a conversation about creating a Richmond Youth Council.
“Policy is a bunch of words written in a complicated way,” said the workshop leader Heather Manchester. “Everyone here can write policy.”
Sharing the stories of accomplishments from other youth councils, Manchester demonstrated how “youth around the world engage in their community and create a change.”
Astrid Flores, junior at Richmond High and chair of the San Pablo Youth Council said her group was able to produce important research on obesity in the city.
“Wow, I didn’t know this was happening in my city,” said Flores of the startling statistics she found; San Pablo has the highest obesity rate in the county and the third highest in the state.
As a result of research and advocacy performed by the San Pablo Youth Council, that city has changed the contents of its vending machines and made local parks safer.
The proposed funding for a Richmond Youth Council—$250,000 over five years—has been on the city council’s agenda for the past month, but it has yet to vote on the item. Jonny Perez, a 20-year-old community organizer said he hopes the council will address this important issue in the coming weeks.
But, the hard work of getting kids to come to meetings and creating the framework for such an organization will be up to these young people.
“It takes time to do stuff,” said 13-year-old Oakland resident Simon Sotomey. “I’m going to have to learn how to be patient.”