YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — An informational session held with eight area teenagers Tuesday evening gave the youths an opportunity to offer their feedback on how the city should spend its $82.7 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan.
The forum was held at the Eugenia Atkinson Recreation Center with city officials. Teens ranged in age from 14 to 18.
“I’m not going to tell you are wrong or you are right,” Mayor Jamael Tito Brown told the group. “I want to listen.”
The teens used their smartphones to link to a QR code on a projector, which posed a series of questions: Do they have a family member that has been incarcerated? Do they have a family member or friend that has been murdered? Are there positive things for young people besides school and sports? Does the community invest money in youth-led projects?
Nasim Holliday, a sophomore at Ursuline High School, said this experience gave his age group a voice – not something dictated by adults. He said there needs to be more to do in the city.
Young people can attend parties, “but the violence kind of takes those parties over,” he said. Holliday wants to see the basketball courts come back to the city.
Restaurants and more gathering places downtown are needed, he added. Places like the Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology are great, but something is needed for his age group. Holliday said he and other area youth are willing to talk about what they want to see in their city.
“We really want places to hang out, more job opportunities to make some money during the summer,” he said. “We just want to have fun.”
Then the group took identified issues in three major topics: critical issues, treasures of the city and what would it look like in our city if we got it right.
Violence and crime topped the list of critical issues, along with random shootings, particularly amid the spike in gun violence this year. The group also addressed employment, as well as having places to gather safely for fun, citing the recent demolition of the Skate Zone Fun Center in Austintown.
For treasures of the city, the youths identified the Jewish Community Center, the YMCA and football games.
If the city “got it right,” there would be more storefronts and grocery stores, the students said. There would also be safe places to go at night, more museums featuring local artists and more fun things to do – one student cited a place like Dave & Buster’s restaurant and video arcade.
Other items on the list included more tennis and basketball courts in the parks, brighter neighborhoods and a mall in the city. The students also wanted to see more attention paid to mental health issues.
Jordan Banks, who is in her second year at Trumbull Career and Technical Center studying to be a dental assistant, said she’s been to downtown Columbus and hopes to bring a slice of the capital city to her home in Youngstown.
“There’s a lot of things to do and that’s what I want to bring to Youngstown,” she said. “We have a beautiful downtown, but just not a lot of things to do.
“Someone needs to place certain people in certain buildings so we can get the action started.”
This was the first of two informational sessions with the city’s younger residents. Another session for those 19 to 35 years old takes place at 5 p.m., Thursday at The Boxcar Lounge next to the B&O Station downtown.
For the last few months, the city has sought community input regarding the best utilization of the American Rescue Plan funds.
Demolishing at least 500 vacant homes, improving housing quality for residents, cleaning up commercial corridors, increasing fresh food access for residents, improving transit accessibility, investing in parks and city youth, and stabilizing the city budget are on the city’s wish list.
As the listening sessions took place in the city’s wards, Brown and his staff realized they needed the youth’s input as well, he said.
“From their perspective, this will be something they’ll be living with for the rest of their life while they live in the city,” he said. “I want to get their input. I want to get their perspective. I think we’ll see some things we don’t see because of where we are.
“At their age, we’ll learn a lot from them today.”
“It’s always a plus when we’re investing in our future,” added Malik Mostella, community liaison officer assigned to the Services Division of the Youngstown Police Department. “The same thing when a farmer tills the land, our youth are our seeds. Eventually those seeds are going to grow in the stocks that we’re going to harvest to run this city.”
It’s important to keep these people in the city because they are the new homeowners, taxpayers, home builders and renters, he said.
“Not only do they live here, they’re from here,” Mostella said. “Their history is rooted here in this city.
“It’s very important that we get them to stay to build and rebuild.”
Guy Burney, executive director of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence for the City of Youngstown, said these young people did voice their concerns and wishes for the city’s future.
“I believe that is so powerful for them because they need to be part of the solution,” he said.
Burney asked if any of them wanted to join the mayor’s task force where he travels the United States to different cities, exchanging ideas to make their hometowns a better place to live.
“We’re going to do this many more times,” he said. “So as many voices as we can get, it’ll start to paint a picture of how people feel and how they think. This city should move and it’s going to help to do the right thing for the community.”
Pictured: Nasim Holliday, a sophomore at Ursuline High School, took part in Tuesday evening’s American Rescue Plan Youth Summit at the Eugenia Atkinson Recreation Center in Youngstown.