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Youth (and adults) have their say

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — July 18, 2008 — Monticello’s mayor, manager, school superintendent and police chief got an earful last week – from young people and adults.
Community Progressive Response (CPR), a new group formed to proactively combat gangs and community decline in Monticello, sponsored the meeting at the Ted Stroebele Recreation Center.
The gathering was designed to let the youth speak their minds, but it often featured adults passionately talking to and about the next generation – despite pleas to keep quiet.
“Adults, it’s not your time,” cautioned organizer Deborah Mack. “Please, let’s just listen to whatever our youth have to say.”
“It’s all about them. It’s not about us,” agreed fellow organizer Eric Young.
The group of young men and women, including Wesley Bedgood and Everett Bridgeforth, haltingly began airing their issues, starting with a desire for more jobs and sports activities.
A little more encouragement from Mack and Young elicited accusations that the police are simply looking to harass young black men who dress in baggy pants and wear bandannas.
“And cops messing with you just adds to the negativity,” said a speaker.
Several complaints were aired about the Monticello school system, where some young people said they were not informed of higher education opportunities, including scholarships.
“They show you no way to get there,” lamented one young woman.
Calls continued for more stores in town, an arcade or other place to hang out in safety, and community block parties and barbecues that allow for healthy socializing.
While village officials, Police Chief Doug Solomon and School Supt. Pat Michel kept their mouths shut and ears open, a dozen other adults could not resist the opportunity to have their say amidst the semi-captive audience.
Most of it proceeded from good intentions, including the desire to let them know about the village’s recreational offerings and various youth-oriented organizations.
Some adult speakers defended local cops as, at the worst, overzealous and usually simply doing their jobs.
Other adults blamed the young people for not having more respect and availing themselves of widely published information on activities and opportunities.
Several other adults talked about how difficult it is for young people these days, how they need more vocational training and parental involvement, how the governmental and educational system is failing them.
But such words tended to generate shaking heads, rolling eyes and jittery feet.
“All you do is talk,” angrily replied one young man to the adults. “I’ve never seen anything happen yet.”
So Mack and company promised that if these young people would bring a friend to the next meeting, would seek answers to their questions, and would make a point to become involved in restoring a sense of community, things would change.
“The point is, things are changing,” confirmed resident and Village Judge Josephine Finn, “but you have to participate.”
Chances to do so started immediately, with more meetings planned this month, a July 26 noontime march in front of the County Courthouse, an August 27 bus trip to historically black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and an August 30 block party on Lakewood Avenue and Prince Street from noon to 10 p.m.
Mayor Gordon Jenkins also invited young people to join the village’s new Recreation Committee by stopping in the village hall or calling 794-6130.

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