Students participating in a Youth Leadership Summit ended their week with a Pop-Up Potluck Friday. As they welcomed visitors, the kids recounted lessons learned during their busy week.
“We had different panels come speak to us, we worked on public speaking skills – and we even had lunch with the mayor,” said LHHS rising junior Osadolor Osawemwenze. “The most enlightening part was mock interviews for internships, college scholarships and jobs. We walked up to stations and told them what we were applying for and where, so we won’t be as afraid to connect and tell our story.”
“We met with U.S. Attorneys and talked to them about their Project Safe Neighborhoods,” said LHHS Junior Class President Priscilla Beltran. “They asked our opinions, and we gave them ideas on combating violence and earning the trust of people in the neighborhoods they’re trying to help. We suggested they give a presentation at our high school and have fairs at elementary schools.”
The exercise isn’t academic for Beltran.
“I live in a neighborhood they are targeting,” she told me. “We’re all affected by crime, and it’s increasing. It’s important they keep us safe.”
DPD’s Chief Avery Moore was impressed.
“The kids told me every time they see an officer he’s in uniform,” said Moore, “so when we have our events, they said maybe not to always wear the uniform.”
Officers make frequent outreach appearances at bike and coat giveaways and at their health and safety fair, seeking to make connections.
“You change the stigma of an officer in a uniform coming only in a bad situation,” Moore told me, “of the engagement always being negative.”
Moore shared ideas about strengthening relations between police and the community.
“Let’s use the word respect. Not only should you respect authority, but police officers have to respect people, whether you are a small child, elderly, teenager – it doesn’t matter. It starts with respect.”
Wildcat senior Blake Brown said the group had a discussion about racism, and he learned a great deal, but he admitted that was one day he listened more than he spoke.
“I’m a white, straight male. I’ve had it all. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t contribute much that day, but I was able to absorb a lot of information.”
Brown said the group also attended McGough’s presentation of Blake Anderson Public Service Awards and worked on their “elevator pitches,” and they improved interviewing techniques, including maintaining eye contact and weaving in personal stories. He thinks the tips will help as he applies at Villanova and Northwestern to study physical therapy.
Sophie Witherspoon, a sophomore at LHHS, was one of the youngest participants.
“I think I’ve built some relationships with older kids in the program, and they can be like big sisters, mentoring me. I can talk to them, and I think I can help kids younger than me.”
Councilman Adam McGough, sponsor of the program, said he was pleased with the results.
“From the moment we got started at the police station this week, these kids were engaged, having a good time and asking good questions. We were thinking we were bringing leadership and advocacy skills to them, but these kids are already leaders.”
“Love thy neighbor is important to me,” added McGough, “but we talked about who is our neighbor and how do we show love?”
The students hope residents across the city will take their lead and host pop-up potlucks of their own in front yards and apartment complexes to share ideas, they said.
Youth Summit attendees included Barbara Raygoza (LHHS), Osadolor Osawemwenze (LHHS), Sophie Witherspoon (LHHS), Chloe Phillips (Bishop Lynch), Blake Brown (LHHS), Priscilla Beltran (LHHS), Genesis Guerra (Irma Rangel), Samuel Fundero (Woodrow Wilson), Dayjus Hill (Lincoln), Kierra Kabarra (Lincoln) and Felicia George.