July 12, 2016 – On Thursday, July 7, Michigan’s Children partnered with The Children’s Center in Detroit to hold the first Youth-Led Candidate Forum of the 2016 election season. Youth from various programs of the Children’s Center came together to elicit answers from candidates in regards to some of the most compelling issues that they are facing in their communities. The forum consisted of incumbents running for re-election and candidates who are first-time runners seeking to represent State House districts 2, 5, and 6. The six candidates proved an interest in addressing a number of issues which the youth considered to be barriers to their personal safety and the safety of their community, their academic success, health, and their families’ economic issues. The youth asked questions regarding crime throughout the City, high unemployment rates, racism and discrimination in their schools, substance and alcohol use by minors, the Detroit Public Schools crisis, and in light of recent events, redefining the roles and perceptions of police officers by residents in their community. The space was truly uplifting as I heard the passion in these youth’s voices and listened as youth shared their personal stories of growing up in Detroit, specifically as it related to their growth and their families’ experiences facing various systemic barriers.
During the forum, most candidates shared their experiences growing up in Detroit which reinforced their passionate concern about the issues that the youth were most concerned about. The candidates spoke about their extensive community involvement throughout the City of Detroit explaining why their commitment to serving and restoring the City was significant. Often times the candidates mentioned the importance of working together within communities to create change, and encouraged the youth to continue to advocate through activities and conversations, such as the forum, that bring communities together to bring about change. The youth were given opportunities to challenge answers from the candidates if they were in disagreement or wanted more information about how the solutions mentioned would come about. Subsequently, this created a dialogue between the youth and candidates to critically think of policy solutions that would truly bring about real change.
Afterwards, the candidates expressed the value of, importance of, and showed gratitude for being involved in such an event. Many said that it reinforced their commitment to running for State Representative and truly pushing for change in Detroit so that this generation of youth and those to follow can have a more enriching environment to be kids, grow, and succeed. Candidates stayed around after the forum to thank the youth and applaud them on their courage and efforts to create change in their communities as a group.
Overall, this forum allowed candidates to hear about concerns from young people in their communities and consider potential solutions to bring about change. And it showed the youth that they can have a say in what the future of their community looks like, and I believe that it did just that.
Briana is an MSW intern at Michigan’s Children.