COLUMBIA — Mia Duhl, 19, a student at Moberly Area Community College, had never had crime hit so close to home.
That is, until the gas station she works at was robbed the same day she was scheduled to work.
“It was just really scary,” she said.
Duhl shared her story at this weekend’s Let’s Talk, Columbia! community forum, which brought adults and teens together to discuss the issues related to teens and crime. The two-day dialogue, held at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, was sparked by a December community-action meeting to address Columbia’s recent crime spike. About 125 people came to the event Friday evening and about 70 people came Saturday.
A major theme for discussion was a feeling of disconnection between adults and teens and how to bridge that gap in the community.
“I think people are less likely to do bad things if they’re connected to the community,” said Phil Steinhaus, CEO of the Columbia Housing Authority. “I do try to stay connected with my daughter.”
Even something like playing Halo 3 with his teenage daughter helps, he said.
“It’s good to know that others besides myself have gone through this feeling of disconnection,” said Hickman High student Drew Barnes, 17. “It really helped me reflect on who I am now.”
For Duhl, talking with adults in a supportive environment and knowing they were listening to what she had to say was meaningful.
“I could talk to people and they could hear, but there’s a difference between hearing and listening,” Duhl said.
“There needs to be more adults willing to be mentors,” Duhl said, adding that it would lead to less crime.
MU professor Vellore Gopalaratnam said making available more stress-free creative endeavours could help teens.
“What I took from this evening’s discussion is that our lives today, particularly for the teens, are more stressful than it needs to be,” Gopalaratnam said on Friday.
Rewards for good behavior and civic involvement could also help engage youths in the community, said Hickman High student Tori Smith-Harvey, 16. She remembered receiving candy bars in elementary school.
“I want kids to have a positive image — not the bad image that a few kids are giving us,” Smith-Harvey said.
Columbia resident Joyce Costa-Randle has worked with children in the city for 15 years and also believes adult involvement would mean less teen crime.
“The more kids you help, the less children will be out there committing crimes,” Costa-Randle said.
Economics is part of the problem, said Maureen Coy, coordinator of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition.
“I think economics is behind a lot of this,” Coy said. “I understand that on a personal level because my husband and I had a business that was partly affected by the start of the economic downturn.”
“It really boils down to education, parents who care, community groups that work with young people, kids having a focus,” Coy said.
First Ward Ambassador Darrell Foster brought up fights at the mall and bus stops, as well as drugs. He said “it’s not the African American community in the First Ward, but other people bringing drugs into our community.” He believes popular culture such as MTV, music and movies has glorified drug dealing and lured youth into what they see as easy money on the streets.
“Why would they want to be like me when they can be a drug dealer?” Foster asked.
“I think if we continue to talk and continue the dialogue, 2020 will look very good.”
Event organizer Nannette Ward said the event proved that youth need to be a priority in the community.
“We’re seeing it and feeling it after having these conversations with them,” Ward said.
She said a positive outcome of the event has been interest in creating a city youth advisory council.
There will be a follow-up Community Action Forum from 5:30 to 9 p.m. March 4 at the Days Inn Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 I-70 Drive SW.