For these last days of June we’re going to share our favorite stories and pictures from Scout’s decade of local reporting. We need you to share those stories alongside your favorites. And then we need you to stand for Scout by becoming a member. Here’s a look back to April 2nd, 2013.
They’re “The Voices of Your Tomorrow,” and they ask that you “Don’t Sleep on the Youth.”
Those were some of the headlines the young leaders of Teen Empowerment, a nonprofit program working with advocates between 14 and 21 to guide them on public diplomacy, brainstormed for themselves during a group interactive.
Their biggest platform for their campaign? The annual Youth Peace Conference, which will host its seventh celebration Saturday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre.
Saturday’s performance is the kick-off event for TE’s April Peace Month. For the first time, instead of having peace week, TE will be hosting workshops and classes throughout the month of April to inform others on effective ways for the young generation to create peace and change.
For the past three months, the Teens have been working hard on the conference, which will address community issues, like the negative messages portrayed in the media, bullying, and illegal drug handling, through music, poems, theater and more.
There are generalizations that teens are too lazy and ill informed to know what they want, but Josh Ojo, freshman at Somerville High School, says TE is here to squash those stereotypes.
“The most frustrating thing for me is that people take use for granted, and I don’t like that,” he asserts. “We’re smarter than they think. I know the mayor and the aldermen make decisions for us that they think is best for us, which I’m not saying is a bad thing. But we know what’s best for us and we know what we want. Just listen.“
Danny McLaughlin, TE’s program coordinator, has been working with youths for about a decade. His passion for this work started when he was an adolescent himself. He is a part of a generation that saw 21 young men and women lose their lives.
“In the early 2000’s, when we had a spike in youth overdose and suicides,” he recalls. “So, Mayor Joe recognized that Teen Empowerment was a good organization and called us in along with other organizations as well.”
For some of the youth organizers, they’ve felt the affects of the issues they’re focusing on this year. Both 18-year-old Stephanie Santiago and 14-year-old Matt Sousa have experienced bullying when they were younger, and now feel a duty to enfranchise their peers.
“Me being bullied helped me become the strong person that I am,” Santiago, who’s the oldest female in the group, admits. “But also being around my friends here has helped me become even stronger. Being the oldest girl isn’t something that I’ve always dwelled on because they’re all so, so, so mature. We all have this mutual respect for each other.”
Sousa, the youngest member, agrees with Santiago, because, “even though I’m the youngest, it doesn’t mean I’m not as good as everyone else. We’re all here fighting for the same reason.”
These teens aren’t just random volunteers. Every school year, the program implements an intense hiring cycle to choose their next cohort. On average, about 100 hopefuls apply for the job. That pool then gets narrowed down to a core group of about 12 to take charge.
McLaughlin further explains that the interview process is competitive because in a society where job opportunities for youths are at an all time low, “TE members are hired. They are employees and they are paid to be the voices in the community,” he says. “They know it’s hard work. It’s not easy to get people to believe in peace and want to be invested in their community.”