Candidates for the Richmond City Council, Congress and the West Contra Costa Unified School District school board appealed to Richmond youth at a Kennedy High School candidate’s forum Thursday.
Graduating seniors from teacher Jeff Pollock’s AP Government and U.S. Government courses gathered in the school cafeteria for the event.
Kennedy High School counselor J.P. De Oliveira said he started organizing the event a month and a half ago when Virginia Fuller, the Republican candidate for the 11th Congressional District seat, asked De Oliveira if she could talk to Kennedy students.
De Oliveira invited more candidates, both to give the candidates an opportunity to speak to the youth, and to give students a chance to ask questions about issues that are important to them.
School board candidate Randy Enos and City Council candidates Eduardo Martinez, Jael Myrick, Tom Butt and Marilyn Langlois attended. Otheree Christian, the president of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council, spoke on behalf of council candidate Gary Bell.
The event began with candidate introductions, in which each candidate referenced a connection to Kennedy High School; Myrick and Enos are both former Eagles, and other candidates discussed their involvement in various school issues and initiatives. Langlois commended students of the school for staging a walkout in response to a threatened closure of Kennedy High two years ago.
Christian nearly lost his booming voice as he told students to “stand forward and move forward,” making references to President Obama, which drew applause and loud cheers from the students.
Myrick, who at 27 years old is the youngest candidate running for the council this year, greeted the crowd with a “Whaddup, Kennedy,” showing his comfort in the cafeteria where he ate lunch as a student nearly 10 years ago.
After the candidate introductions, students were given a chance to ask questions they submitted before the forum.
After the forum, Samer Deep Kaleka said she was interested to hear about “building better schools.” Larger class sizes sometimes mean not enough desks, she said, which can cause interruptions and makes it difficult for teachers to instruct.
Louis Sanchez, a first-generation Mexican-American, said the one thing he wants changed is the prevalence of gang violence, which he sees in his neighborhood off Nevin Street.
De Oliveira has worked with high school students in Richmond for five years, and said that students are frustrated about consistently unfulfilled political promises for the improvement of school conditions. “I think my students are kids at heart, but they’re worried about their future,” he said.
For many, that future involves becoming part of the democratic process, said Pollock, the student’s teacher. The forum is a way to prepare them for that future, he said.
“I want them to become better citizens who understand the issues and become responsible voters,” he said.