May 4, 2013 9:09:38 PM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
The Mayor's Youth Council. The Boys and Girls Club. These two groups are among several in Columbus designed to engage young people in the community and involve them in productive activities that can serve as a strong foundation for future success as adults.
But are community leaders doing enough? How can city councilmen, parents, and normal folks do more to advocate the well-being of the youth of Columbus and encourage them to stay here and be successful members of the community?
The answer depends on which city councilman candidate you ask, but the general consensus is the city needs more to offer. Candidates discussed their ideas on making youth and young adults a priority during Thursday night's forum at the Hunt Museum and Cultural Center.
Incumbent Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens said the first step is simply more communication.
"We don't really understand our kids. The economy is changing. The nation is changing. Kids are doing things different than the way we did," Mickens said. "We have to spend some time and talk to them. The mayor has a youth council. I think it's an excellent idea. I think we need to have more projects like this involving our kids. Our kids are our future. We need to stand behind them and give them every advantage that we can."
Mickens' opponent, Susan Mackay, said there aren't enough avenues in the city that are youth-focused.
"One of the biggest things that we have a problem is a lack of activities," she said. "That goes to quality of life. We need to have different activities to get them something to do so they're not running the streets and they're not getting into gangs. It's important to have mentors, so I think it's important to all of us to provide mentor-ship programs. There are several that are already in place, but our community organizations need to work with these groups to broaden their base. By adding quality of life programs that we need, the youth are going to want to stay. We have to think about different activities to get the youth as they grow up things that want to keep them in Columbus."
Ward 4 Councilman Fred Stewart, a retired educator, said he believed parents and youth advocates "need to concentrate on our own neighborhoods."
"I work with different organizations and I talk to parents because we have to be neighbors," challenger Marty Turner added. "We have become like we used to be. We have to start sharing our time with the youth. Some of the kids, they think they're bad, but they're not. They're children. It's up to us to teach them. It's up to us to be an extra person in their lives. That's what I call myself. I am that extra person. I know they have parents, but I am the extra person to keep them motivated."
"You can have all the youth councils you want," challenger Maurice Webber said. "You can have all the mentoring programs you want. But let's face it: Kids just want to have fun. I think as our economy improves these things will come."
Ward 5 incumbent Kabir Karriem agreed with Mackay's assertion that more activities are needed for youth and young adults.
"We have to put things in place for the city to educate the children and teach them things that possibly they're not learning at home," Karriem said. "Right now, your average child is not getting those things and these programs we have already in place have to become the kind that teach young boys how to become young men and young girls how to be women. We have to start at the base. We can't skip A and go all the way to Z. We have to go through the steps. We have to communicate more with our children and find out what their wants, what their values are and how to accommodate them. But we have to get parents more involved in our children's lives."
Karriem's challenger, Kenneth McFarland, said as a former director of Boys and Girls Club in Columbus he believes parents and mentors need to remember when working with children is that they are children.
"They're looking for us to tell them what they're supposed to know and we have lost that," he said. "When we're working with the Boys and Girls Clubs and other organizations We're looking for something to capture their attention. How can we get them to open up their minds and do the things that we want them to do thinking they're things they want to do? First, we teach them how to become responsible adults to where they want to go where we want them to go .In other words, kids like structure. They might not show you that, but listen to them. When you're dealing with young people in this program and other programs you give them discipline and structure and how to do things. They'll meet you where you are. But if you don't deal with them where they are they're going to go somewhere else."
Ward 6 incumbent Bill Gavin said the city council has taken some steps to improve the amount of opportunities for youth.
"It's the job of this city council to provide activities and buildings and facilities for these young folks. I think we've done that through revitalization of our parks and recreations areas. This council has been very good at providing that but where it starts is with (parents)," Gavin said. "I think instead of having a mentor or a baseball coach let's have someone who is willing to sit and work with that child to show them the values of what that child can do. I think a lot of this begins at home. That's something the council can't dictate."
Gavin's challenger, Whirllie Byrd, referenced her past experience in mentoring programs and said city leaders bear responsibility in working with youth-oriented organizations already in place to get as many young people involved in their activities as possible.
"I think that we as council members can work with other youth organizations and other local organizations within our town, (and) also some of the faith based organizations to gather the youth that may not be part of those programs," Byrd said. "I'd like to work with some of the community programs and faith-based programs to incorporate activities for youth and also young adults. Speaking of the young adults once they graduate high school lots of them leave this area. When they finish college lots of them leave this area and they don't look back. One of the biggest complaints is that there's nothing to do. We all know there is nothing to do for our young adults and our youth, so it's our responsibility to make sure they have what they need and hoping that we can entice them to stay in the Columbus area. Because otherwise it's just going to leave us defenseless as we grow older."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.