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Students Enlighten Empower Knox During Youth Forum 
Community Engagement Manager Kathy Mack believes that young people are our future -- the changemakers on whom we depend to point the way toward long-term opportunities and success. 

With that sentiment, Mack began the virtual Youth Forum on Feb. 18. About a dozen young people ages 12-20 attended the Zoom meeting convened to discuss youth perspectives on city issues. 

“We want to see change happen, and we’re looking to you for what that is,” she said. “We’re counting on your input.” 

Youth Forum

And they gave it -- out loud and in the chat feature -- answering a few short and deceptively simple questions posed by moderators Hannah Freeman and Emily Norris, interns in the Community Empowerment department. 

•  When you hear the phrase “City of Knoxville,” what comes to mind?
•  If you could change one thing about the city, what would you change?
•  What can the City government do to make that happen?
•  What can citizens do to make that happen? 
•  Are you prepared to be an active citizen?

Participating students represented Gresham Middle, Emerald Youth Academy, West High School, Christian Academy of Knoxville, Pellissippi State and Austin-East High School. 

Mack prompted the conversation by asking participants to speak or type one word to describe their state of mind. The results reflect the broad mix of emotions: joyful, excited, confused, jubilant, reflective, receptive, hopeful, anxious, thankful, depressed, unsure. 

The tone of this Youth Forum was more somber than the one held two weeks prior, Mack said. Several students kept their screens black, still reeling from losing three young people in as many weeks to gun violence. 

Andre Canty of Cities United advises Empower Knox and helped moderate the forum. Canty, who is from Knoxville, spoke about serving as a mentor to Zaevion Dobson, a Fulton High School student who was killed in 2015 while protecting his friends from gunfire. The experience led him to ask himself “How do you continue?”-- a question he acknowledged they might be asking themselves. 

“We all got each other,” he said. “You all are going to be the changemakers.” And later: “Be honest. These adults will back you up.”

After a sedate and predominantly positive discussion, Mack invited attendees to apply for the new Youth Council. She closed with these words: “We love you all, and we’re in this together.” 

They were powerful words for participants of all ages to hear. 

Knoxville residents ages 12-20 who are interested in participating in a Youth Council can download an application at KnoxvilleTN.gov/EmpowerKnox and submit it via email to KMack@KnoxvilleTN.gov before March 15. 

How did young people who participated in the Empower Knox Youth Forum respond to the questions posed by Kathy Mack and her team? 

When you hear the phrase “City of Knoxville,” what comes to mind?

“I want to see it grow and succeed.”
“Right now I think of violence, but before that, I don’t know.”
“There’s a lot of good things, and a lot of bad things.”
“People coming together to help each other.” 
“Violence, because of what’s happened.” 

If you could change one thing about the city, what would you change?

Better relationship with school security and law enforcement.
More equitable development.
Increase the value of all over emphasis on self.

What can the City government do to make that happen?

Cameras at schools.
More ways to educate students about what’s really going on and how things work
Redistribution of resources
Create/pass more legislation around community needs (gun violence prevention, workforce development, housing)

What can residents do to make that happen?

More ways to have/encourage dialogue with and input from young people
Raise money, bring food/items to homeless people
Help kids with mental health issues.
Do your research now so that when we can get back out there, we’re ready to act. 

Don’t wait until you “grow up” to get involved. “We can enact a lot of change. We don’t have to have a degree from Harvard to speak out on the issues we care about.” 
Posted by ptravis On 25 February, 2021 at 11:14 AM