MONTCLAIR, NJ - On August 16, youth from the Montclair chapter of the NAACP held a town hall meeting at the Wally Choice Community Center.
The chair for the evening, Adarian Sneed gave the welcoming address and had the panel of participants introduce themselves.
Panelists for the evening included Noah Blake (MAAHF scholarship recipient 2017), Olivia Chipepo (treasurer), Aja Bussey (Youth Council President), Sneed, Alissa Brown (1st Vice President ), Integra Feliciano (Montclair State Chapter) and Mechi Brown (President Montclair State Chapter).
James E.Harris, Education chair for the Montclair NAACP, facilitated the event. He said, "If we (adults) intend to have youth involved, we must provide leadership, mentor[ship] and educat[ion]."
He added, "Each chapter of the NAACP is encouraged to have a youth council and where possible a partnership with a college chapter, Montclair is one of only a few in the state of NJ that has a youth council supported by both."
The overall topic for the evening was communication. It was expressed that communication needs to be better in getting information to young people, especially within the school setting. Panelists suggested that it could be stronger especially on social media. Since so much occurs during the course of a day, the recommendation was to put information out to where it will have a mass reach.
Topics of discussion for the night included, student and police interaction, how to chose courses wisely, volunteer opportunities, college prep earlier than 11th grade, job listings and so many other issues that are of importance to youth and their families. It was repeatedly mentioned that he key is how to make sure that information is accessible and easily available and understandable.
Sneed then asked, What are the solutions to some of these issues?"
In regard to police interaction, students felt that in the present climate for youth, especially those of color, have a fear and disrespect for police.
Brown suggested, "We need to establish a liaison between the police and youth."
Chipepo added that establishing a program that provides for sincere interaction, discussion and education, would possibly assure youth that the police are not out to get them, but are there to protect, aide and assist where and when needed.
Detective Kim Nelson-Edwards was in attendance. She mentioned the importance that police officers come from the community in which they serve since the universal feeling is that they are connected to the neighborhoods and outreach can be more effective.
Newly installed police offer Shaun Green shared his story of growing up in Montclair and growing up in the 4th ward.
He said, "Being from Montclair, I know the town and I know the people. When I went to college, I was not sure what I wanted to do, but I had people in my life who I could look up to like my uncle, Wilhelm Young and Roger Terry."
Young and retired Police Deputy Chief and former Deputy Mayor Roger Terry, were among the attendees expressing support and commitment in addressing the panels concerns. Young and Nelson-Edwards stated that creating programs and actively working with Montclair youth is essential in keeping them and their communities safe and aware.
Questions and exchanges from the panel and those in attendance, overlapped into other areas such as education and diversity.
Others in the audience included Brian Scantlebury (Township of Montclair), Naomi Kirkman (Bradford Elementary school Principal), Gaye Overby (Headstart), Roselyn Terry ( Montclair Head Start), Nicole Watson (Community outreach, Essex County Proscuters Office), Joe Kavesh (Montclair Board of Education), were among notable attendees.
Manyattendees expressed awe at the impressive way the panelists handled themselves and expressed a commitment to help bridge those communication gaps that fall short in assisting young people in learning essential life skills, understanding voter registration and how the government works beyond.
A discussion about voting and voter education ensued. Blake shared his story on voting saying, "I did not know about absentee ballots. When I finally picked one up, it was too late."
In sharing their concerns, it was made mention by many in the audience that the youth voices are important and that they can be a part of making a change in addressing many of the issues raised.
When the topic of libraries and updating technology came up. Brown added, "Information is available, we all know how to Google. We don't try to educate ourselves, [but] we must love to learn and take accountabilies."
Albert Pelham, President of the NAACP Montclair Chapter, had this to say, "In watching the panelists, I see young leaders that show a long term commitment and who have passion."
He also echoed many of the other attendees, giving advice on the importance of the power of their collective voices.
Shakira Pelham then shared her story of attending Montclair High School when a situation came up involving teachers. She spoke of the students who stood up and made their voices heard.
Nelson-Edwards spoke of supporting youth, adding that parents should advocate and support their children in their efforts to understand and navigate the mentioned concerns touched upon that night.
For youth interested in participating in the NAACP youth council, they meets on Saturday mornings at 11am at the Montclair Public Library. The meetings are open to the public.