COLUMBIA — First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton wants people to know that things have got to change.
But the first youth discussion, which was scheduled for Thursday, didn’t get to address that. It was postponed due to a lack of participants. Crayton, however, is still challenging Columbians to come and listen to what the First Ward youth have to say.
The youth discussion meetings were held regularly on Thursdays last year, she said. With changing school schedules, kids stopped coming and the discussion ended.
“We, as adults, keep shifting and saying, ‘They’re out of control, they’re out of control,’” she said.
It’s a multifaceted problem, Crayton said, noting that she has a list of reasons why kids are turning to crime: absence of role models, lack of opportunity and a slew of negativity.
Community programs are a great step in keeping kids engaged, but poverty prevents them from capitalizing on the opportunities offered, she said. Crayton suggested that some sort of subsidy should exist to make these programs free.
There’s also a lack of meaningful cultural activities, Crayton said. For example, there are art shows, but Crayton said she tells herself, “That’s not me, that’s somebody else.” Crayton believes that the community needs to offer kids activities that get their attention.
More importantly, she said, there’s a lack of role models for the children. With the rise of single-parent homes, there’s no one home to help raise youths. Crayton admits that she worries about her own son. Thankfully, Crayton said, her son has had male role models in his life — people to take him to peewee football and Boy Scouts.
But others aren’t so lucky.
“If there’s nobody there, you’ve got to have some help,” Crayton said.
The main reason that children are so “out of control” is because of the lack of opportunity and jobs, she said. Kids are forced to wander around when they don’t have money or transportation to do anything else, she said.
To try a different tactic, Crayton’s asking the community to listen to kids.
“Out of the mouths of babes we get some real truth,” she said.
The next meeting, which will be held Jan. 31 at the Armory Sports Complex, will have both adults and children, Crayton said. Aside from gang specialists, Crayton wants parents and advocates to come out.
“We can’t keep going down this path; it’s killing them,” she said.