Mayor Gray Holds First Youth Town Hall Meeting

Shevry Lassiter | 8/3/2011, 10:32 a.m.
Concerns voiced over employment, recreation services...
A young resident of Ward 7 suggests that Mayor Gray add college preparatory courses to school curriculum during a Youth Town Hall held on July 31, at THEARC in Southeast. / Photo by Shevry Lassiter

Concerns voiced over employment, recreation services

"One of the things important to me is to make this one city. One City means that there is equal opportunity. That irrespective of where you live you have access to the same opportunities, the same services, and the same programs as anybody else no matter where you live." Mayor Vincent Gray.

THEARC, located in Ward 8 and home to eleven nonprofit agencies, all of which share one common goal of improving the quality of life in the Ward 8 community, was the meeting place of Mayor Vincent Gray's first Youth Town Hall on July 30. Approximately 45 youth and 25 adults were included in the small crowd.

Repeated comments throughout the meeting voiced displeasure with the number of young people receiving jobs in the 2011 Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP).

Mayor Gray declared, "Every eligible youth who applied for a job, received a job."

Despite the statistical data provided by the mayor, several teens commented on the lack of jobs among their close friends and peers.

The mayor said 25 percent of the youth in Ward 8 worked in the program. Gray said he would consider awarding community service credit hours for those persons working in the SYEP; a suggestion made by one of the attendees, and would discuss the issue with the Council and his staff to see how this could be implemented.

Remarks were also made on the absence of activities for young people and toddlers, adequate recreational facilities and programs to keep youth safe and off of the streets.

Mayor Vincent Gray addresses the audience at the Youth Town Hall held on July 31, at THEARC in Southeast. / Photo by Shevry LassiterOn the issue of safety, Kendall Simmons, 21, questioned Gray on the rise of crime in the area and attributed the rise to the lack of youth employment.

However, Gray insisted that crime was significantly down. He said, "It used to be that the 6th District and 7th District were leaders in crime," and this "is an indication that law enforcement service is working well ... and people are beginning to rethink and react in other ways."

The mayor introduced some of the programs available to youth in D.C. and it was apparent from the questions asked by the attendees that the information about the opportunities was not reaching its target audiences.

Mayor Gray said, "One of the things that people need to do is take advantage of the programs. We haven't cut a number of programs to youth because we recognize the importance of them." He added, "The kids want it to come to them. Instead, encourage young people to seek opportunities on their own. For some of the programs that are available, the kids need to sign up."

Whitney, a resident of Ward 8 and sophomore at Howard University, suggested that the District come up with a college preparatory program for students enrolled in grades 8 through 12. Whitney recalled the amount of time she spent just acquainting herself with financial literacy and scholarship opportunities during her first year of college and felt that if she had learned about team building, resume building, scholarship searches and financial literacy before entering college she would have been more equipped as a student. The mayor applauded Whitney on her idea and agreed that this is something he would like to try to do in schools all over the city.

Ron Wilkerson, a participant in an In School program at Opportunities Industrialization Center/DC (OICDC), offered a suggestion that the D.C. government partner with large companies to obtain money for resources to "employ young people and teach them about the real world."

Mayor Gray explained that the large companies, too, have budget problems similar to the D.C. government and have cut back on funding programs. He said that the non-profit organizations are in a better position to seek funding for youth programs from large companies.

The Youth Town Hall meeting was one of several to be held in the upcoming months in different wards in the city.