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Saturday, January 23, 2021

I’m Just Sayin’: Let’s listen to our youth

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Be proud of our young people.

At the city’s first #IndyYouthSpeak, Indianapolis had a few things they needed to get off their chest both to the community as well as elected officials and community leaders.

And I was here for all of it. (My company helped with the development and promotion of the event.)

Alyssa Gaines, Indianapolis Youth Poet Laureate, gave us our living manifestation of why Black lives matter.

In a poem about the challenges of interacting with a white friend who has the privilege of not dealing with the potential of having a younger sibling be killed by the police and getting off. We got a plain, unvarnished insight into why Black people are frustrated from a voice that is mature beyond her years.

Yes, she went all the way there.

We will hear more from her in the future, and she is already making Black Indianapolis proud. 

But she certainly wasn’t the only one that had something to say. And if you haven’t guessed yet, this column is surrendering to powerful voices this week because young people’s voices matter.

Derrick Slack, a Pike High School teacher, and Brandon Randall, youth advocate and program director at VOICES Corp, expertly facilitated the conversation.

Khloe Britton kicked off the discussion raising the challenge of poverty and suggested we actually fund poverty alleviation programs better. She came with facts, noting the Indiana poverty rate was higher than the national poverty rate.

T-yon Jones stated both resources and communication were challenges the city had with respect to young people. While there are some resources, the communication efforts often fail to consider some of the biases that adults have against young people in certain areas of town.

Ronnelle Collins spoke directly to gun violence. He has lost five people in his immediate circle to gun violence. He called for the community to come together and build relationships with each other.

Kevin Alcalla talked about the unequal distribution of resources in education, specifically referencing Carmel’s wealth advantage over other inner-city schools. Undefeated by this reality, he advised young people to take advantage of what they do have and “if you do what you do, you’ll get out.”

Elaina Williams said young people’s voices are often unvalued simply because of their age. Elaina suggested that city leaders come to young people and show them that their perspectives are valid. She said, “We inherited a world that is on fire and we are just trying to put it out.”

Saul Davidson talked about visiting Garfield Park library because he likes books. He spoke to the lack of appreciation of individuality — he believes there’s too much of a hive mind or mob mentality. He called for greater individuality and the space for young people to figure out who they are. He mentioned the Center for Leadership Development’s Self Discovery program as a great program to facilitate this kind of learning.

Michael Owens a music artist talked about gun violence and leadership. He called for the community to speak up when people are murdered in the city. He said it was a leadership problem — the community needs to speak up.

Norman Malone another music artist said we don’t have enough real leaders who can connect to youth. He felt like he had to go to the protest because he had a cousin who was killed by police that the community didn’t really talk about.

About attending the protests, he offered a message of empathy when he said, “You can’t say stop rioting if you’re not down there.” He wanted people to try to see situations from the other person’s perspective, to connect and even lead people a different direction.

Alyssa, our reigning Indy Youth Poet Laureate, when asked about the biggest challenge facing the community, said that Black and brown communities don’t have enough pathways to becoming agents of change.

She was also aware of Black people being killed by police and other Black people who have died but their cases have not been solved. For her, “It feels like the people in power don’t care anymore.” She wants more platforms so that young people can speak about their concerns.

Felecia McGinnis said that youth are categorized as rebels and that adults need to take the time to learn about young people as individuals. She recommended classes for youth and adults to come together to understand each other. She said, “Our community has to want to come together and understand each other better.”

This discussion happened in front of elected officials, nonprofit and community leaders and the young people advocated for themselves. City-county council President Vop Osili and councilor Ali Brown are committed to working with young people to develop some kind of youth council and look into getting them on city boards. MCCOY wants to increase their advocacy training for young people. All of the youth serving organizations recognized an opportunity to do more.

Thanks to MCCOY, Lawrence Township schools, IPS, Pike Preparatory Academy, Indianapolis Urban League, VOICES Corp, IBE and the Indianapolis Recorder, who were key partners on this city-county council effort.

See you next week …

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at marshawnwolley@gmail.com.

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