By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
Over the last several weeks, this column has been dedicated to the ways in which we have been, and intend to continue to ensure that Somerville is a great place to live, work, play and raise a family. What I want to emphasize this week is the fact that, first and foremost, this orienting value of ours starts with a commitment to our young people.
Our record of providing opportunities for and supporting our city’s youth is longstanding, and impressive. Whether it is our academic record, policies and programs like Shape Up Somerville or offerings through the Recreation Department, or our increasing support networks like SomerPromise, and partnerships with a wide variety of nonprofit and service agencies throughout the city, our dedication to enriching the lives of our youngest citizens is quite clear, and well documented: We have been named one of the nation’s 100 Best Communities for Young People by the America’s Promise Alliance four times in as many years; our inter-scholastic athletics are among the best in the state; and our vocational and ESL programs are the envy of public school systems around the Commonwealth.
But for an unbeatably immersive perspective, I have always counted on partners in youth-serving agencies like Teen Empowerment to take the lead. The Center for Teen Empowerment, Somerville is one of our most dynamic and inspirational partners, working to affect positive change among teens in our community. TE annually employs 25 Youth Organizers, and together they set up programs for teens across the city to help combat issues like bullying, substance abuse and gang violence. First organized by Stanley Pollack in Boston, these initiatives have grown considerably over the last seven years, and now their activities range from open mic nights to policy dialogues with elected officials, culminating each April with their annual Youth Peace Conference, which continues to amaze and inspire hundreds of youth from around the metro region.
I’ve been honored to have a chance to speak to this diverse group of young people every year, and this year, I’ll get to take a seat on the couch at Late Nite with Teen Empowerment Somerville, their theme for 2013, on Saturday, April 6. This will be their 7th annual conference, and it has become so popular in the entire metro region – drawing nearly 800 people each year – that they have had to expand into the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square. As you might guess, with a bigger venue comes bigger plans. At last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting, I officially declared the first-ever “Peace Month” in the City of Somerville for the month of April 2013, a tribute to the ongoing efforts of Teen Empowerment and more than 20 agencies in the city’s extensive Youth Worker Network to make this a better place to live, work, and play for their peers, and the future of our community.
Through the Youth Worker Network, this month alone offers a jam-packed calendar of workshops, open mic events, youth-police and youth-elected official dialogues, all with the mission of increasing tolerance, awareness, building relationships and peace in Somerville. If you haven’t already, take a look at the Teen Empowerment website – www.teenempowerment.org, or their Facebook page for a sampling of the events they have planned, and more than that, plan to attend some of these powerful sessions for an idea of how hard they work to accomplish their goals.
Teen Empowerment is a force for good in this city, and they deserve the support of their community for trying to make our community a better place.
They do the hard work: they work with their peers on a daily basis, to really understand and find coping mechanisms for some of the biggest issues concerning their age groups; they collaborate across agencies and with community leaders to create workshops and dialogues around topics like the impact of media on a person’s self-image, the effects of drug abuse on a person’s family and friends, and opening up dialogue between youth and public officials like Aldermen and police officers. But most importantly, they let youth know that they are not alone, that they do have a voice, they can be heard, and they can make a difference.
It’s important that we understand and work to address issues of concern with youth in our communities, and not just from a governing perspective. Through the work of Teen Empowerment and other youth leaders in the city, particularly in such public forums like the Peace Conference, we gain a new perspective on the tough issues facing adolescents and teens, and how we can prevent things like bullying and substance abuse.
It’s important, if you are a young adult, teen, or adolescent in the City of Somerville, to get involved. Whether it be through TE, or through one of the many, many other incredible community youth resource agencies we have here in the City, or whether it is simply by attending meetings, events, and workshops, make your voice heard. You can, and do make a difference, and you are the future of our great city. Peace Month is definitely a great place to start.