Panel meets to address issues facing local youth

There are youth in Starkville who face what the city’s mayor calls “unacceptable” circumstances and a panel gathered Thursday to begin tackling those isssues.
The organization known as the Collaborative Change Network held an initial meeting Thursday and reviewed data developed from survey conducted at a Youth summit over the summer.
The CNN is described as an “intentional think tank” consisting of a group of leaders from different sectors and working to move Starkville forward by focusing on the community’s needs.
One of the organizers, Alfaye Brown, told the audience gathered at Starkville’s Hilton Garden Inn Thursday about how the survey results came to be.
After the May 22 shooting death of Curtis Randle, 25, Alfaye Brown says she was “very concerned.”
She says she saw on Facebook the youth of the community were angry, confused and frustrated: “How could this have happened and they were saying, ‘Why?’”
Brown says she didn’t know what to do so she went to her pastor, Supt. Joseph L. Hawkins of Peter’s Rock Church of God in Christ.
He suggested a Youth Summit with the theme “Keeping It Real.” The summit took place in July and during it, organizers asked participants to fill out surveys with several questions. There were 84 respondents ranging in age from 7 to 19.
Some of the survey results include:
• Two 7-year-olds said they’d tried alcohol or drugs, four of them said they’d been bullied and four of them said they knew others who’d been bullied.
• Five 9-year-olds said they’d been bullied, five said they knew others who had been bullied and three of them reported thoughts of suicide.
Eight of those who were anonymous respondents said they had thoughts of suicide. Five respondents aged 18 said they had these thoughts.
• The earliest age bracket reporting sexual activity was 10, the largest was age 18 with 10 respondents. All 19 anonymous respondents said they had been sexually active and said they knew people who had been bullied.
• Of the overall responses, 9 percent are in a gang and 63 percent know someone in a gang, 80 percent have witnessed someone being bulled, 56 percent have been bullied themselves, 30 percent said they’ve thought about suicide, 45 percent have tried drugs or alcohol and 45 percent have had sex.
• The earliest age where a respondent said they were in a gang was 11 and there were three of them at this age.
In his opening remarks at Thursday’s meeting, Wiseman said:
“There were some very disturbing responses to those surveys. ... Those responses for the children in our community are unacceptable in this community,” he said.
The CCN came into being after a review of the survey results, which proved that it is “imperative to become proactive in providing positive experiences and opportunities” in Starkville, according to a flier available at Thursday’s meeting.
The CCN works to identify areas in the community which need positive change, look for systems and processes in place to effect change or establish needed approaches if they don’t exist.
The people gathered Thursday took part in two facilitator-led discussions, with the first to identify several applicable solutions, then identify a target solution and the second to develop implementation steps for these solutions.
Some of the suggestions included:
• Parental training sessions and rural community centers.
• A national speaker to appear and share a message related to the word others already share locally.
• A collaborative task force to work in schools on such areas as counseling and a coordinated awareness week focused on teaching on these topics in area churches.
• Bringing the Mississippi State University student participants in the Men of Excellence and IDEAL Woman programs into the schools as role models.
• Connecting caring adults with youth in a casual setting.
• Setting up a skills center to help develop confidence and provide participants with life skills.
• Establishing a Facebook presence through a managed community group as a means by which youth can share their concerns.
Panelists were asked to indicate whether they were interested in future participation – and possibly take on leadership roles – with the CCN.
Organizers are planning a Parents and Youth Summit Jan. 22 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Starkville Sportsplex. For information on the upcoming summit, call 722-0446.

Editor’s note: News Editor Paul Sims is a participant in the CCN discussions as is his wife, Amanda.