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U. City Youth Group Opens Dialogue With Adults

Adults & teens meet to discuss community's role in supporting youth

Centennial Commons at Heman Park, one resource for area teens in University City. photo by Ursula Ruhl. (click for larger version)
October 06, 2011
Trying to address the needs of area youth while promoting respect between youth and adults was the focus of a forum held Sept. 20 at the Heman Park Community Center in University City.

"We are having this meeting to see how you feel," said Asia Garrison, a 16-year-old University City High School student.

She was speaking to other teenagers in the crowd of approximately 50 people. The group was a mix of teenagers and adults.

The event was organized largely by teenagers, many of them members of the University City Youth Society, a group which describes itself in its literature as "an organization founded and run by teenage residents of U. City whose common goal is to bring youth together in a non-violent way."

Both Garrison and Jami Cox, a U. City resident who attends Cardinal Ritter High School, said that prior to the event they had spent time talking to other teens who told them such things as "St. Louis is lame. Nobody cares how we feel and there is not anything to do."

The meeting was inspired by those events as well as events earlier this year when there were accounts of teenagers causing disturbances in the Loop.

Attendees broke into groups to discuss several questions including "Are teens in the St. Louis area treated well and supported by the community equally?" "What is the community doing right for the youth?" and "What do you think the community could do better for the youth?"

Questions drew a number of responses and ideas. Among them were that if youth acted in a more positive manner, they would be treated better by adults; and the idea that some inappropriate actions are a case of youths reacting to adults who stereotype them. The result is teens reacting negatively to negative treatment.

A number of teens in attendance indicated that they would like adults to be in their lives as mentors and volunteers, possibly at a recreation center. That idea had been mentioned earlier in the year at a meeting to address youth issues organized by University City officials. At both meetings it was mentioned that lack of funding is an obstacle for such a facility.

Despite the lack of a recreation center, several adults in attendance encouraged youths to act on what had been discussed.

"It's not about you and how you look, the facilities are for everyone; come have fun but respect the facility," said Linda Taylor, the recreation supervisor for the University City Parks and Recreation Department. She was speaking in reference to the availability of the Centennial Commons building at Heman Park.

"You can't be a victim," said Marshall Robinson, who spends part of his time as a youth pastor at a local church. "Nothing is stopping you from being the initiator (in conversing with adults); they have a wealth of knowledge. Seek out help and for those who are older, don't assume things about kids just because they have tattoos or baggy pants. They want you and need you."

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