Plan in works to encourage youth role in government

Published 5:00 am Thursday, May 8, 2008

Brookhaven resident Shannon Bowden said she has always beeninterested in politics, which is part of the reason she wants tosee a chance for area youth to get involved with their citygovernment.

“I’ve been working with youth for a while, and then I’ve alwaysbeen interested in politics,” said the city water departmentemployee. “I thought about it and decided kids around here shouldhave a youth city council.”

Bowden, who has her bachelor’s degree from Mississippi ValleyState University and her master’s degree in communications from theUniversity of Akron, thought about the idea and did some research.She found the idea was not unprecedented.

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After learning other cities in the state have opportunities foryouth to either have their own city council or get involved withthe governing board of the city, Bowden decided she wanted to bringthe idea to fruition in Brookhaven.

“But I wanted to get it approved before I started reallydeveloping it,” said Bowden, adding there are still parts of theidea that are somewhat nebulous.

Bowden took the idea before the Brookhaven Board of Aldermenearlier this year, and after some discussion and idea exchange,found some areas worth tweaking. She brought it back to the boardroom Tuesday night.

Bowden said she’d like to see the youth council begin in thefall, and consist of about 12 high school students who areinterested in learning about and being involved in government.

She said the group would work together to isolate, identify andaddress issues faced by community teens. One council member a monthwould be the designate to represent the group at the city board ofaldermen meeting.

“They will be learning about how city government works inconjunction with the aldermen and the mayor, as well as bringingissues and concerns from the youth perspective to the board,”Bowden said. “I’d like to see the youth get involved in thisbecause it could grow to be something really positive for the youthand our city.”

The idea for the group was initially to have students ages 16-18on the youth council, but Bowden said she liked an idea brought upby Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes at Tuesday night’smeeting.

Estes suggested to Bowden that the council have three freshmen,three sophomores, three juniors and three seniors. In addition tospreading out the experience, it gives the students the chance tolearn about campaigning and working for re-election.

“How the students will be selected is key,” Estes said.

Bowden said the first crop of students may be appointed and thenonce the program is off the ground, they would be elected from thatpoint on after interest in the program has picked up.

“I talked to the board about the election process,” Bowden said.”The support from the committee as a whole has really beenencouraging.”

One alderman Bowden was not afraid to ask for help from was WardFive Alderman D.W. Maxwell. She said he has been an inspiration toher because of his involvement in the community.

“Outside of just being an aldermen, I’ve seen him interactingwith the public quite a bit and getting involved in a lot of localissues and I thought he would be excellent to be a part of thisidea,” she said. “All of our aldermen are great leaders, but heparticularly caught my eye as someone I’d like to get involved withthis program.”

And if the youth council idea is successful, it may encouragestudents to be more successful, Bowden said. She said she’d like tosee the minimum GPA be a 2.0 in order to allow students who mightfall through the cracks of other programs.

“Most scholarships require students to have a 3.0 GPA, whichleaves out the struggling kids,” Bowden said. “I’d like to open upthe GPA requirement just a little, because it gives them a positivefocus to work towards, and that may push them to do a little betterin school.”

That’s the point of the idea, Bowden said, to encourage studentsof all races and creeds to get involved with their government andtheir communities.

“I’d like to see students get involved that are a mixture offemales and males, students that are enthused about getting intopolitics,” she said. “And for some students that aren’t interested,if they got involved, maybe they’d find it interested them.”

And Bowden said she would encourage the youth of the communityto get involved, because potential political leaders just might notyet know what they want to be when they grow up.

“A person who’s never ridden a bike, if they try it and enjoyit, they might become the Tour De France winner, all because theytried something new,” she said.