Sunday September 9, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- A forum organized by youth and community leaders to address issues exposed by a downtown riot in May brought dozens of Pittsfield youths face-to-face with the chief of police, the mayor, a state representative and several other city officials on Saturday.

The Youth Summit at Berkshire Community College was a daylong event of workshops on career readiness, racism, rights, responsibilities and civic activism.

The day was capped by a question-and-answer exchange between officials, youths and other attendees.

Among the issues raised were the lack of activities and dedicated space for Pittsfield's young people, the lack of diversity in the faculty and staff of Pittsfield schools, and the barriers that prevent many city youths from participating in school sports.

According to police reports, the May 17 melee began when two young women started fighting at the corner of Melville and North streets after the May 17 Third Thursday. When the two were arrested, in the midst of a large crowd of young people, the conflict grew to more than 100 people and required the response of four other law enforcement agencies. Six teens were arrested and no major injuries were reported.

"The silver lining of that day was that it helped to bring our community together here today," Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi told the gathering.

Both teen and adult participants questioned the lack of diversity among faculty and staff at city schools, some noting that it has been an issue for 20 years or more, despite recruiting efforts of the school district.

Another issue, a lack of dedicated safe space for teens to gather, resulted in a call for a youth center on the west side of town -- where it is needed the most.

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier encouraged those young people in attendance to address some of these problems by getting involved in their communities, seeking a career in education in Pittsfield, run for local office, and by getting involved in other community related endeavors.

"If you want to do something, ask," she said. "And keep asking until you get the answers you want."

After the forum, Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn praised the participants.

"We're hoping to have more opportunities for conversations like this," he said. "There are a lot of things to do, and now we're more focused on providing more diversified options for our kids."

"This was a very positive experience," said community activist and coalition member Shirley Edgerton. "There was a lot of communication between the adults and the young people -- lots of food for thought."

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6241
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford