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Council candidates debate youth issues at key forum

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Council candidates debate youth issues at key forum
At-large City Council candidate Tito Jackson second from left answers a question as rivals Felix Arroyo left, At-Large City Councilor Steven Murphy third from left and youth leaders Melissa Abar second from right and Calvin Carrasquillo right listen during a candidates’ forum at English High School last week. (Photo: Yawu Miller)

The overwhelming majority of the teenagers who put together the city council candidate’s forum at English High School last week aren’t old enough to vote.

Yet they brought out the candidates. Half of them, anyway. Felix G. Arroyo, Tomas Gonzalez, Tito Jackson and Steven Murphy mounted the stage in the school’s auditorium to answer questions from teens affiliated with the Hyde Square Task Force, Sociedad Latina, MassVote, Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project, and the Dorchester Bay Youth Force.

The youths’ aspirations were reflected in the questions they asked and issues they raised. The high school drop out rate is one. Reducing youth violence was another. Lowering the achievement gap was another issue, as was reducing the concentration of environmentally polluting industries in low-income neighborhoods. And of course, lowering MBTA fares was still another.

The answers they received showed subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the candidates’ approaches to government and community.

Arroyo and Jackson, both first-time candidates, spoke from their personal experiences growing up in the city and, in Arroyo’s case, working with youth as the coach of a baseball team.

Their solutions were less rooted in the current policies of the city. Responding to the question about youth violence prevention funding, Arroyo said the lack of funding for youth in Boston demonstrates a lack of concern.

“You spend money on what you think you want the most,” he said. “Young people should be the number one priority.”

Jackson responded to a question about how best to solve youth violence by asking for a show of hands of people who lost a close friend or relative to violence. After the majority of the attendees raised their hands, he asked how many were offered post-traumatic counseling fewer than a dozen of the 200-or-so teens in the auditorium raised their hands.

When asked about unequal incarceration rates for black youths, Jackson spoke about his own experiences being illegally strip searched by police in the wake of the Carol Stewart murder.

Arroyo spoke about losing friends and one of the youth on his baseball team to violence.

Gonzalez spoke both from his experience growing up in Boston and from his knowledge of the inner workings of City Hall.

On one hand, he spoke about teens loitering in train stations and starting fights, but on the other, he said the responsibility rests with the city for making sure teens are in productive activities in the hours between when school lets out and their parents come home.

“We don’t have enough for our kids to do when they’re not in school,” he said.

Murphy, one of two incumbents in the at-large race, frequently framed his answers in the context of efforts already undertaken by city agencies.

Asked what he would do to help create more summer jobs for youths, Murphy spoke about how the city has increased the number of summer jobs for the last five years and said those efforts would continue.

“It’s a difficult effort, but we will have to work on this together,” he told the gathering.

When asked how he would secure funding for youth violence prevention, Murphy noted that the city has requested that the Boston Police Department spend less on overtime and said he would advocate for diverting the funding saved to youth programs.

The youths interviewed by the Banner gave Arroyo and Jackson the highest marks for their answers.

“Felix really spoke to me about the youth violence,” said Robeson Rogers, a student at Hyde Park High School’s Social Justice Academy.

Calvin Carrasquillo, one of the moderators of the panel and a student at Brighton High School, said he was impressed by Jackson’s answers.

“He gave more details and facts,” Carrasquillo said.

While Carrasquillo is three years away from voting age, he said the forum gave him and other youth a voice in the political process by compelling political leaders to listen.

“This was a day where we actually got to say what we think about what’s going on around us,” he commented.

Co-moderator Melissa Abar said she was disappointed that only half the candidates in the race showed up to the forum, but was happy with the discussion that took place.

“It was good just to hear where they’re coming from,” she said.