Candidate forum brings tough questions from youth

Oct. 26, 2013 @ 09:53 AM

The number-one issue for Durham youth at the Oct. 17 Kids Voting Durham mayoral and City Council candidate forum was the need for more and better youth development programs.  The students, ranging from 8 to 18, took all of the candidates to task on some tough issues, including jobs and homelessness, at the event at the Holton Career and Resource Center. 

Young people asked about teen centers and other recreation opportunities and pushed the candidates on the need for transportation and safe sidewalks.  Cora Cole-McFadden, running unopposed in Ward One, said “Youth need a teen center in every quadrant of the city so that all youth who want to participate can.  Transportation to teen centers and other places is something we should look at.”  Omar Beasley, Ward Two candidate, seemed to strike a chord with the youth focusing on his three A’s—arts, athletics and academics.

Some candidates shared their interest in improved fields for sports.   Don Moffitt and Pam Karriker, candidates in Ward Three, agreed about the need for additional playing fields, particularly for soccer.  Karriker said “older kids need more choices for recreation and playing fields are a big part of that.” 

Jobs and the economy along with public transportation were two other hot issues identified by the participants as they voted on their top concerns using an electronic voting system supplied by Durham’s Parks and Recreation Department.  Youth leaders shared these concerns through the evening of intensive round-table conversations with candidates.  Candidates rotated from table to table where they were asked a series of questions generated by the young participants.

One of the youngest participants, 8-year-old Destiny Quick, didn't let her teen counterparts do all the talking. “I liked how they answered my questions and how candidates say they are going to change Durham,” said Destiny. “Some kids don’t know how to behave. I want them (the candidates) to prevent bullying and help people be good and kind.”

Kids Voting Durham, a program of Durham County Cooperative Extension, sponsored the forum which Ward Two candidate Eddie Davis declared had “the very best interaction from the candidates of this entire campaign.”  Kids Voting sponsors this youth forum focusing on local elections and the issues that Durham's young people care most about.  The program is known for its election week voting opportunities for young people in schools, at the polls and online.

When asked about efforts to address crime, incumbent mayoral candidate William (Bill) Bell touted the city’s progress with the North East Central Durham Bulls Eye program and indicated his desire to “model what has been done with Bulls Eye in other places in Durham. We must get the community involved to share in the effort with law enforcement.”  In turn, mayoral opponent Sylvester Williams spoke of his dismay over the handling of the recent police shooting of a mentally ill man in downtown Durham, and the need for a citizen committee and for “improved relationships between citizens and the police department.”

Youth table moderators responsible for keeping candidates and youth on track trained for their role and arrived early to help attending youth write the questions that would be asked at each table. In their third year of serving as youth moderators at Kids Voting forums, Destiny Reyes and Caitlin Leggett, from Shepard Middle School's IB Program, agreed that youth voices need to be heard more often and that it is also the responsibility of youth to stay informed.  According to Reyes, “In city council elections, you don’t think of kids being involved, but here at this forum they are involved with issues that matter to them.  Our voices are being heard.”