By Antonio Moore
The beginning of this decade brought the most critical election cycle in recent history. While the presidential race is hot with topics about foreign relations, gun control and climate change, Baltimore’s mayoral candidates have residents fate hanging in the balance. Issues like public safety, corporate contracts with city government, surveillance planes and corruption dominate the candidates discussions and town halls planned by Baltimore’s youth.
The town halls make up the ‘My Mayor Must’ youth series, hosted by a coalition of Baltimore’s youth leaders from The Center for Adolescent Health Youth Advisory Board, HeartsmilesMD, CLIA (Community Law in Action), No Boundaries Coalition, Young and Engaged, and Challenge 2 Change.
The first town hall in the series happened Jan. 30, hosted by HeartsmilesMD and the Center for Adolescent Health Youth Advisory Board at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Lanae Williams, a 15 year-old youth moderator from HeartsmilesMD, set the tone by affirming in the opening that the space and discussions of the night were intended to be solely related to the youth of Baltimore city. “Please in your introduction state your name, who you are and what have you done for Baltimore’s youth,” said Lanae. “This isn’t a town hall toward adults, all answers to questions should be directed toward the youth.”
Jemira Queen, a 16 year old junior at Baltimore Polytechnic High and youth leader of HeartsmilesMD, opened the initial topic around food insecurity. She cited several statistics about food access inequity. Queen asked candidates about implementing better quality food places for youth in underserved neighborhoods.
Kaniera Wagstaff, a 19 year old sophomore at Morgan State University, followed up and moderated a discussion on job opportunities and spoke about the squeegee kids.
The second town hall hosted by CLIA at Green Street Academy on Feb. 13. A less crowded panel graced the stage this time. Current Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, entrepreneur Rikki Vaughn, City Council President Brandon Scott, and former T Rowe Price Executive Mary Miller answered questions about justice involving youth. Channel 11 anchor Andre Hepkins joined in moderating the discussion among the participants.
The final installment of the series was hosted at the Friends School in partnership with Faraji Muhammad of WEAA 88.9 FM’s The Culture on March 10. In attendance were former police spokesperson TJ Smith, entrepreneur Rikki Vaughn, youth advocate Carmicheal “Stokey” Cannady, City Council President Brandon Scott and former prosecutor Thiru Virnijah The town hall was co-moderated by youth from the Baltimore Collegiate School and the Friends School, covering the topic of Education in Baltimore city.
Following the end of each town hall, moderators had all mayoral hopefuls recite a pledge that affirmed that Baltimore’s youth will be holding the next elected leader accountable.
My mayor must be open to growth and new ideas from the youth and the community.
My mayor must be responsible to his or her actions.
My mayor must have accountability to those actions.
My mayor must think extravagant to understand the needs of the people and respond accordingly to the people.
My mayor must be a leader
The political process can be unfamiliar to the majority of young people. With the race for candidacy this year in Baltimore a crowded one, it can make it difficult for young people to make informed decisions when voting. The conversations during the forums provided first hand interaction with the thoughts and attitudes of some mayoral candidates toward young people and the youth related issues in the city.
*Among the candidates who attended, current City Council President Brandon Scott, community leader Carmicheal “Stokey’’ Cannady, former police spokesperson TJ Smith, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, restaurant chain owner Rikki Vaughn, Tenants Rights Activist Yolanda Pulley, state Sen. Mary Washington, former corrections officer Ralph Johnson Jr, chaplain Micheal Jenson, and many other challengers. The attending mayoral candidates faced packed auditoriums with over 200 young people and supporting adults in attendance.
Antonio Moore is a native Baltimorean and co-founder of Students Demand Action Baltimore, an organization that works to end gun-violence. Contact Antonio by email at [email protected].