ATLANTIC CITY — Students finally got a chance to offer their opinions about growing violence in the city Thursday, and “more” seemed to be the theme.
More police, more cameras and more parenting were common ideas raised at a Youth Summit held at Atlantic City High School and attended by students from sixth grade to high school.
There have been six rallies since Pennsylvania Avenue School student Angel Mercado-Santiago was killed Jan. 8, but the question has remained: “How come we’re not talking to the youth?” Mayor Don Guardian told the students.
“Your voice will be heard today,” Superintendent Donna Haye told the students at a welcoming ceremony.
They then broke into groups, which traveled to different moderators to discuss the problems, possible solutions and what the community can do.
“Parents need to be more involved with their kids and teach them to be leaders and not followers,” said Shaniquah Algarin, 17, a senior at the high school.
Indra Owens, a guidance counselor at Brighton Avenue School, was happy with the discussion that the third group she saw got into. The discussion was led by Algarin, who was the first to open up about the problems among youth.
Owens, 30, grew up in the city, but it’s a much different time for students now, she said. Not only do many at least know someone who has a gun, they answered easily when asked how you get one.
“You just ask somebody on the street you know has one,” one student offered. “You ask if they know somebody who has a gun for sale.”
“They’re shooting each other because they can’t fight,” said 14-year-old Nasim Holloway, an eighth-grader at Martin Luther King Jr. School.
“Is that true?” asked Owens, as most of the two dozen students in the room agreed.
But Algarin said it’s also fear.
“You might want to just fight, but (the other person) has a gun, so you feel you have no choice but to get a gun,” she said.
Some of the students took a bit of prodding to get a the discussion going, but many of the answers came back to the need for more oversight: either with police, surveillance or involved parents.
“We need father figures,” a Sovereign Avenue student told Councilman Marty Small, who also led a group.
Marvin Burroughs, who works with the mentoring program at New York Avenue School, began his discussions with the students closing their eyes and picturing where they see themselves in the future.
Answers included sportscaster, attorney and sneaker designer.
You can’t achieve it unless you visualize it, he told them, offering advice on how to reach their goals.
"The students need to know, number one, that we care," said Pennsylvania Avenue School Principal LaQuetta Small, who helped coordinate the summit. "They need to know the administration, the powers that be are listening."
And that they will act, she said.
The day ended with a discussion of what was discussed, and surveys filled out by the students will be used to help plan events and activities in the city.
"Ultimately, no matter what, it's about you feeling safe on the streets of Atlantic City," Guardian told them.
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