Flint youth are pushing city leaders to have a plan for the community

FLINT, Michigan -- Youth ambassadors from WOW Outreach are using their voice to do more than just express community concerns—they presented a collective plan of action to dismantle biased practices at every level, racial discrimination, and systemic injustice to city leaders. 

After leading a youth forum on May 27 and calling on city leaders to participate, there are higher expectations the youth are setting on city government leaders. 

“The youth have a voice,” said Kenyetta Dotson, founder of WOW Outreach, during the youth forum. “They want us to know that they matter, that they are relevant, that they have a place in this world. They want to be respected; they want to be acknowledged. They want to [play] an active role in the change.”

With more than 30 attendees during the youth forum, the event had a variety of city government officials who participated and provided answers to each of the panelists’ questions.

A few of the youth ambassadors who are leading to push community change are Heavens Gurrola, Guadalupe Gurrola, Kameron Motley, Tomás Tello, Mari Copeny, and Khamilia Clarke.  

WOW Outreach was established in 2007 and stems from the outreach work and efforts of Church Without Walls Ministries. 

The mission of WOW is, “To build safe Flint neighborhoods, WOW Outreach generates conversation around very hard topics, ignites action and collaboration among people and organization, and most importantly gives hope to youth and families living in historically dis-invested neighborhoods.”

Tello, Youth Ambassador panelist, said he is looking forward to city leaders matching their words with action.

“The reminder of the thoughts and the different stories that were shared at the forum, I feel like those should continuously remain,” Tello said. “They should be like the Gmail icon that has many messages unread. In our mind, especially for the elected officials, that number should continue to build until they actually click the Gmail and open the voicing concerns that we have and actually do something.”

The biggest goal of WOW Outreach is to provide opportunities for the most challenged youth in our community to change their behaviors, attitudes, and perspective on life, in hopes of addressing increased violent behaviors, truancy, suspensions, and low academic achievement. To impact the lives of young people in a positive way by motivating and encouraging them to value their lives, others’ lives as well as their community. To challenge youth to be their own agents of change, establishing hope and belief in their own ability to succeed and live a healthy, happy, prosperous life.”

Neighborhood safety, police presence, interactions, and training are big concerns with recent events that have taken place in the community. 

Various responses to a plan of safety and engagement were given by city law enforcement partners, such as Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson. Swanson was able to introduce the “Flint Area Explore Post Program” which gives the Flint youth more opportunities to be mentored by those in law enforcement.

Funding allocations for youth programs, policies that address gun violence, safety, and opportunities city leaders are advocating for that help youth and families with the greatest need were the areas Congressman Dan Kildee and Mayor Sheldon Neely responded to.  

The Child Tax Credit (Kildee) and CIT Training (Genesee Health System) are just a few future plans of action which will give the youth more mental health resources and funding allocations.
 
With city leaders being pushed by the youth to have a plan and more actions in place, the youth ambassadors do not plan on stopping at conversation forums.

“I’m going to do a lot of observing,” Tello said. “Just watching the people that are in government right now or city leaders—city, state, local level— because they are the blueprint for us.” 

Read more articles by Miriam Bingham.

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