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March 21, 2018 - Hampton's third Urgency of Now conference brought together elected officials, city staff, school administrators, pastors, non-profits, and dozens of high school students to talk about ways to change the culture of violence.
The goal, according to a greeting written by Anthony Smith of Cities United, which helped sponsor the workshop, was "make your city safe, healthy and hopeful for all your young people."
Hampton High School sophomore Jeremy Taylor noted that "As we seek to come together to confront and overcome the many challenges in our community, we have to acknowledge that there are many factors at work." The forum gave everyone an opportunity to come together, he said, noting, "It takes everyone's voice."
In a panel discussion about how to move forward along the theme of "Strengthen, Build and Empower," city officials discussed how to build on the day's conference to reach its goals.
"The City of Hampton is committed to providing the best opportunities we can for our youth," said Mayor Donnie Tuck. The city has been working on building partnerships with faith-based groups and non-profits, he said, but he stressed a need also to work on building trust: "All of the programs we put in place and all the things we try to do, people won't participate" unless "the trust is there."
The public schools have both a special opportunity and an obligation, said Superintendent Dr. Jeffery Smith. "Young people don’t care about how much we know until they know how much we care. Without relationships, young people will think all we’ve shared with them are ideas and concepts.
"Young people will show up to school," he said "if they have a trusting adult in the school building."
The way we define strength needs to change, said Assistant City Manager Steve Bond. "The idea that showing emotion – showing that you care about your friends, your family, your community – is a weakness … We have to change that. We have to be vulnerable. It’s OK to be vulnerable and uncomfortable, and it’s OK to show that.”
Organizer and moderator Synethia White, who heads the city’s Office of Youth and Young Adult Opportunities, noted that people have a choice of what kinds of images of black men are promoted. “Just here today, we have so many black males that are making pathways for others. We have to have a positive intention of uplifting the work that black males are doing in this city. It could change the way people look at black males.” The contrast, she noted, was the negative publicity in many forms of media. “If we get caught up in that hamster wheel of bad news, bad news, that’s all you're going to see.”
The panelists talked about the need for adults to hand over some of the reins to young people.
Bond noted, “We have to be willing to give up some control. It’s very hard to let go. You can be there when they ask for your opinion, but if you truly want to empower young people, you have to let them take control.”
That’s not an issue, said City Councilman Will Moffett: “I am inspired and encouraged that we have not only intelligent young people but also articulate leaders. Our future is in good hands. It’s time for me to step aside and let you all take over,” he said to the young people in the room. “You have our support.”