Youths to be heard at first city summit

Thursday August 30, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Rather than stay angry and sling blame about a May 17 downtown melee between teens and Pittsfield police, community members, teens and city officials are working together.

"The past three months have led to fairly intensive and regular meetings with the coalition about moving forward," said Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn.

The coalition to which he refers is a group of concerned citizens of all ages and backgrounds known as the Coal ition for Greater Com munity Col laboration.

On Saturday, Sept. 8, the group will host the first Pittsfield Youth Summit, a daylong event of youth-driven workshops at Berkshire Com munity College. Topics will range from college and career readiness to issues of racism and sexism. It will offer students the chance to express themselves through music and art.

Former NBA star Jayson Williams will be there to talk about his rise and fall and his efforts to be a better person and community player. The event promises "real talk," a chance for youths to both air and address their grievances about the challenges they face, such as the proverbial lament of having "nothing to do."

The coalition is also working to develop a mentoring program for boys in the community who are in need of positive role models.

On Wednesday, event or ganizers Shirley Edgerton, Judy Williams and Chief Wynn held a meeting with Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to discuss the event and other long-term visions for supporting the city's young people.

"There was some anger initially, but we didn't want more negativity to come out of it," said Edgerton.

Edgerton was referring to the May 17 melee. The confrontation apparently began when two young women started fighting on the corner of Melville and North streets at the close of a Third Thursday street festival. It escalated and Pittsfield Police said the melee massed more than 100 people and required the response of four other law enforcement agencies. In the end, six teenagers were arrested, four were arraigned, and no major injuries were reported.

Edgerton said that those arrested were "by all standards good kids. None of them had records."

There were also conversations based in meetings and through social media that the incident also involved stereotypes and racial profiling.

About two weeks after the incident, a meeting of community members was held at the Westside Neighborhood Re source Center. From that, the Coalition for Greater Com munity Collaboration formed.

"The two greatest concerns were the behaviors shown during the incident and the fact that the kids didn't initially respond to the request from police to move off the street," said Edgerton, a leader of several city youth initiatives including the Youth Alive step dance program.

"It gave us a chance to see where the gaps are, where the breakdown in communication is," said Williams, a former peer resource counselor for Taconic High School and former director of the city's Teen Parent Program.

"It's also an opportunity to see who the kids are that police can work with and how kids need to learn to understand the responsibilities of police," Williams said.

On June 25, the coalition held a youth meeting at Conte Community School. Nearly 40 people between the ages of 7 and 21 showed up to voice their concerns. Among them were the perceptions that kids are bad, that the Westside neighborhood is bad, and that schools need to be more supporting of a diverse culture.

"They want their educational experience to be more relevant," said Mayor Bianchi who listened to his young constituents at the event. He said the youths further explained that this means teaching black history beyond Martin Luther King Jr. and promoting a more multicultural population of teachers and staff.

Beyond the Sept. 8 summit, Edgerton said the goal is to have the participants guide the coalition in creating an action plan that addresses systemic changes that need to be made, such as those suggested for schools.

If you go

What: Pittsfield Youth Summit, featuring keynote speaker Jayson Williams,
formerly of the NBA.

When: Saturday, Sept. 8. Times are TBA.

Where: Berkshire Community College.

Information: For more details on how to participate in this free event, call (413) 499-9348.

In addition: From 8-9:30 p.m. on Sept. 8, there will be the Youth Summit after-hours show for ages 14 and up. Performances are by hip-hop dancer Mackenzie Buckley; Youth Alive step dancers and band; rappers Young Gwop from Hartford, Conn., and Buddha Da Great from New York City; singer Christine Bile of Pittsfield; and a performance by TriState Empire. Berkshire Community College auditorium, 1350 West St., Pittsfield. The cost is $5 at the door; free for youth summit attendees. For more information, call (413) 446-6261 or (413) 854-4439 and ask for Michelle or Jmar.


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