For one night, Richmond’s youth had the power to grill their leaders on the future of their city.
The RYSE Youth Center, Invest in Youth Coalition, and the League of Women Voters hosted a two-hour debate Thursday at Richmond’s City Council chambers, with youth age 24 and younger and audience members presenting Richmond’s 13 mayoral and city council candidates with a range of questions.
“(Tonight’s) event was for the youth to get an outlook on which candidates are running,” said Joan Binalinbing, a 17-year-old Kennedy High student and one of the moderators. “And to see even though we can’t (all) vote, who is going to be in office and how they can support the youth.”
Divided into three panels depending on term positions and office sought, council and mayoral candidates took turns appealing to the young audience members.
“I am kind of like the Kendrick Lamar of the city council, in that I work for the 80’s babies,” said Councilmember Jael Myrick, the only candidate under the age of 30.
Other candidates stressed their popularity among older voters as a means to win the support of younger voters.
“You can ask your mother, your grandmother, your uncle, your cousin, your brother or your next door neighbor, ‘Who is Corky Booze?’” candidate Corky Booze said.
Throwing up his hands, Booze said, “Everybody knows Corky Booze!” The young moderator, Sam Wilson, thanked Booze, 70, in a shaky voice, sending a surge of laughter through the audience of more 50 people.
In a city where more than a quarter of the population is under 18, the debate was unique in giving the youth a platform to present their issues and concerns while posing questions to prospective leaders.
One concern in particular posed to Booze, Myrick and Anthony Creer, the three candidates for a two-year council seat, focused on employment opportunities for undocumented youth. In 2010, the city estimated that its undocumented population was about 5,000.
Under federal law, undocumented immigrants are “discriminated against when it comes to (federal aid for college),” Myrick said, “but they are not discriminated against under the Richmond Promise, they are going to get it.” Richmond Promise is the name given to a $35 million batch scholarship funds for local students that Myrick helped secure at part of a deal approving Chevron Richmond’s refinery modernization.
As for the seven candidates for four-year seats, the youth asked whether they would support funding to expand after school programs to keep kids off the streets and issues of public safety.
The candidates addressed the youth question by commending the work the Richmond Police Department in building community relationshps. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also mentioned that the City Council would take up the issue of body cameras for all police at next week’s council meeting.
For mayoral candidates Nat Bates, Uche Uwahemu and Tom Butt, the questions focused on the candidates’ rankings of youth issues, youth input in local politics and methods to increase teen employment.
In response to a question about boosting youth employment, Bates turned the tables.
“Are we going to focus on hiring young people or would you rather have your mom and dad who’s the head of the household, get fuller employment?” Bates asked.
While Uwahemu emphasized the need for a vocational school for young people, Butt advocated expanding the summer youth employment program to enable youth to build their resumes and get better jobs.
As the night concluded, young people smiled broad and received hugs from their friends and family.
In November, the first Richmond Youth Council will be announced, enabling the city’s youth to provide input to the City Council on all youth issues, a position for which Binalinbing has applied.
“This a great start to really get youth leadership out in Richmond, to encourage the youth that they do have input in local politics,” Binalinbing said. “Even though we can’t vote, we still have an opinion and we can voice that.”