12 AUGUST 2002

Hundreds of people gathered in a large room, all concerned, all ready to create change. ''Youth violence needs to stop!'' one political leader proclaimed and was answered by exclamations of agreement. This was yet another conference organized around the rising problem of youth violence in Boston. However, although this meeting was centered around young people, none were present. Not one was invited to present his views. 15-year-old Shara Zaval* reports ...

Listen up! Hub youths have much to say

Many groups across Boston have been holding meetings, rallies, and conferences to get people involved in finding solutions to problems affecting today's youth. But shouldn't they be addressing the very persons whom their decisions will affect? And if youth do not have a voice in policies that will influence their lives, then what incentive will they have to follow them?
Many adults acknowledge that the proverb ''Children should be seen and not heard'' has no place in the modern world. Yet moments later they claim that children talk too much. They rarely assume that youth could be speaking about relevant topics in today's communities. But if young people are not allowed to voice their opinions outside of school, then why are they taught to form ideas as early as kindergarten? Why not wait until they are adults if it is only then that their ideas are deemed worthy enough to be shared?
Almost everyone believes in freedom of speech and in the statement that all persons are created equal. Nevertheless, many people insist that youth be left out of important discussions and decisions that affect their lives. The young should not be excluded from the freedoms provided to everyone else.
Many older persons excuse the way they have overlooked youth by claiming that young adults do not care about the world around them. But youth do care - the real problem is that youth have not been empowered. When you look up the word ''empower'' in Webster's dictionary, the first words in the definition are ''to give '' and ''to promote self-actualization.'' In other words, no matter how much a member of a community wants to participate and voice his or her opinion, he or she can never do so if not given the chance. Young people have many ideas about the issues concerning today's communities, including violence and gangs. We want to share our opinions, take action, and make sure that the conversations delve deeper into the root causes of violence.

What is happening to youth in prison?
Some articles have talked about people being let out of prison as a cause of the increase in violence. We want to know what is happening with young people while in prison so that they emerge able to function well in society.
This summer members of the City School's Summer Leadership Program have been posing these concerns and striving to create a forum to engage the opinions of young people. As a member of this program, I and others have been developing leadership skills by trying to better our communities and by discussing social justice issues such as homelessness, AIDS, and nonviolence. We realize that as young leaders we can serve as role models to encourage dialogue among young people in a peaceful way.
With this idea in mind, a coalition of youth groups, including the City School, Teens Against Gang Violence, and Love In Action, coordinated a youth speak-out and rally for peace and social justice to show a coordinated youth response to the recent incidents of violence. While all were invited to this event last Saturday at St. Kevin's School in Dorchester, only young people were asked to speak out. We asked adults to listen respectfully to the voices of youth representing different parts of our city because we have plenty to say.
The rally served as a successful platform where members of the Summer Leadership Program and community youth spoke about issues disturbing them and also presented their concerns in a creative format.
Young people danced, sang, performed skits, wrote poetry, read monologues, and spoke their views about serious problems and possible solutions. Topics ranged from the availability of guns to the effect of urban renewal in Chinatown and other parts of Boston to gang violence to racism to sexism. Yet the most common theme was that of unity. We all agreed that unity among various races, genders, and ages was necessary to achieve resolutions.
I hope that more opportunities arise in the Boston area for empowering young people. Although we may be young, we do have voices, minds, and opinions, and we do not want to wait until we are adults to use them. And we don't want people to merely hear our voices - we need people to listen. Listening is the key to understanding, and understanding is the key to the solution.

* Shara Zaval, age 15, is a member of the City School Summer Leadership Program.



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