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Missing Faces: Creating a Reflective Democracy

On Thursday, January 11th, we attended a City Club Youth Forum entitled "Missing Faces: Creating a Reflective Democracy" in which a panel discussion moderated by Mr. Milan Jain, a Youth Forum Council Member, took place. The panelists were Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio (District 13); Mayor Annette Blackwell of Maple Heights; Ms. Cuyahoga County Council Member Shontel Brown (District 9) who is also the Chair of the Cuyahoga Democratic Party; and Ms. Tiffany Roberts, a student from CSU who is the President of its chapter of "Turning Point USA" which is a politically conservative youth organization which promotes fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.

Before the discussion started, statistics were read that evidenced the fact that most of our elected officials are older, white and male and that there is significant underrepresentation of young people, women, people of color, and LGTBQ. Thus the main question put to the panel was how to encourage a wider cross section of people to become involved and run for public office or just be active in community affairs as a responsible citizen. It is important that this happen because the more others see people of their own gender, age, ethnic group or sexual preference go out and achieve the more they will try to do also because they will see that the barriers that once held them back are diminishing. 

And the panelists seemed to agree that the solution was for concerned people to stop saying things like "this needs to be done but I can't get anyone to do it" and take a whack at trying to get it done themselves. Along these lines, they all seemed to have experienced moments of inspiration in which they realized that they, themselves, had excellent potential which needed to be utilized because (with the right preparatory training and support network) they have the ability to do just as good of a job if not better than many of the people currently holding public office. Of course financial resources are undeniably an important factor but by working at the grassroots level; one can learn to a lot with limited resources if fear and hopelessness can be overcome.

Since it was mostly young people in attendance, the panelists geared their message to their age group by suggesting ways that they, as high school students, can prepare themselves for responsible community involvement and perhaps future public office. Certainly there are a lot of extracurricular activities (sports, clubs, etc) taking place at their campuses and they should involve themselves in them as much as possible because they are an important in terms of emotional and intellectual development as well as providing an avenue for getting to know and interact with people who they otherwise wouldn't be able to. Not that they should limit themselves to educational activities; there are a lot of community groups and political candidates who would welcome their involvement.

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Of course there will be pressures put upon them in terms of having the courage to do what is right in the face of adversity so it was said that it was vital that a person be in touch with their own values and be ready to explain to others why they may have to do something that might be unpopular at the moment but will ultimately work for the greater good. Naturally, it is necessary to provide encouragement for dissenting viewpoints to be expressed in order for all-encompassing, constructive solutions to tough problems be realized.

When we first arrived at the City Club, we chatted with Ms. Chamya Smith, a City Club Youth Forum Council Member who is a senior at John Hay Early College and currently preparing herself for a career in medicine. Ms. Smith was taking part in the program for the first time and told us about the Youth Forum Council which has 32 members from schools all over Cuyahoga County. It meets two times a month and there is a monthly forum that we often attend. Overall, its mission is to educate and to develop democratic leadership skills through the encouragement of discourse and engagement. For us, it sounds like an excellent avenue for involvement. Next month, they will put on a forum about the rise of the "#MeToo Movement" a recent phenomena involving the denouncement of sexual assault and harassment-a subject worthy of discussion indeed.

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

 

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