Bowser, Boys and a Bill Signing:

Mayor “Hangs Out” With Students

Story by Katherine Hunter. Commentaries by Richard Okpala and Trevon Thomas. Photos by Michael Wood and Kaylin Galloway.

February 9, 2015:  On Wednesday, January 14,  Mayor Muriel Bowser hosted the second Google Hangout at Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy. Young men of color from the District’s schools pitched recommendations to Mayor Bowser on ways that the government can help the community. In response the mayor and representatives from nonprofits considered and affirmed their requests.  At the end of the session, Mayor Bowser signed the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program Bill in honor of the late DC mayor, Marion Barry.  

The session was a follow-up of a challenge  presented in December to the young men to read President Obama’s Audacity of Hope and to come up with five recommendations for the government to improve the community. The roundtable discussion began with recommendations from Tech Prep, one of the eight schools in attendance.  Lewis Jones, a senior at Tech Prep recommended, “The Summer Youth Employment program should be expanded to include year-long employment for students who participate.” Ed Davies, Executive Director for the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, responded positively to Mr. Jones recommendation stating “I support that and believe the training will prepare the students for employment in the future.” Anthony Dyson Johnson, a junior at Tech Prep, also recommended that “schools build more support groups for students with special needs and challenges with home life experiences.” Bowser considered this and said this would help.

Following Tech Prep were recommendations from Dunbar, a public high school located in Northwest DC. Their recommendations were to broaden the spectrum of learning in schools. “I want school systems to have vocational academies, other than just schools dealing with certain skills,” Bowser replied.

Eastern High School, a public school located in Northeast, recommended that there should be block parties and school wide activities. “It is very important for young men and boys of color to be known clearly and to let their demands be known,” Bowser commented. “And I believe that block parties would be very good for that.”

E.L. Haynes, public charter school in the District, proposed more recreation centers and supported Eastern High School’s proposal for more block parties.  They argue that the block parties will advertise the activities that occur inside the recreation centers. They also proposed extensive leave for policemen that  have had a traumatic experience and  for policemen to have body cameras, due to the police shootings of Michael Brown and unlawful killing of Eric Garner.

Wilson, McKinley Tech, School Without Walls, and Woodson finished off the discussion with their separate recommendations. Woodson recommended that financial classes should be taught to prepare students for financial life. Davies brought up that though there aren’t any taught in public schools, but there are community based programs. School Without Walls suggested that there should be more interesting after school activities. Wilson finalized the discussion with a proposal of affordable housing, better tactics for education and poverty.

After the discussion, Mayor Bowser signed the Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program Bill, renaming the old program in honor of the late DC Mayor. She was using six pens to write with, so as she was writing, she gave each pen to the six young men of Technology Preparatory and Friendship Collegiate Academy. “It’s an honor witnessing the signing of the Summer Youth Employment Program in honor of Marion Barry,” Richard Okpala, junior at Collegiate Academy, commented soon after the bill signing. Read below for more comments from Collegiate’s Richard Okpala and Trevon Thomas. 

The second Google Hangout discussion was the ultimate success. Bowser’s approach to bettering the District through young minority men gives them a voice in their community. The following Saturday the Boys and Young Men of Color Initiative was launched. Mayor Bowser also took the young men to see Selma, a biopic of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, last weekend. 

Non-profit representatives and other district officials  present were: Donald Hense, chairman of Friendship Schools; Doranna Tindle, Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy Principal; Edward Smith, Administrator of Justice Grants Admin./Office of Victims Service Bureau; Bomani Johnson, DC Trust; Ed Davies, DC Trust; Kathryn Procope, Friendship Collegiate Academy Director and Markus Batchelor, Ward 8 Outreach and Services Specialist.

Katherine Hunter is a sophomore and SGA President at Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy.

Meeting Mayor Muriel Bowser Upon arriving at Friendship Tech Prep Academy I was anxious and nervous at the same time. I was nervous because we were going to meet and talk to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the newly elected mayor of our great Washington, DC. I was very anxious because I really wanted to show off and represent Friendship Collegiate Academy and also because I wanted to share my recommendations on things that could help the youth in our city—a big issue for the community which I'm sure the other students attending thought too. When Trevon Thomas and I arrived at Tech Prep Academy, we quickly collaborated with our peers and students Michael Wood, Lewis Jones and 3 others who attended the forum with Mayor Bowser about the recommendations we wanted to give her. We quickly figured out that we each had some of the same ideas.  We decided to recommend that the summer youth job program be year round for high school seniors.  Trevon and I also had our own ideas for Mayor Bowser about how the recreation centers in our neighborhood need to be more hands-on and not just for playing basketball and goofing around. The recreation centers should be providing programs to help youth with their future. And, the staff at the recreation centers should not  just sit there all day warming the chairs, but really care about the kids who are there. Another idea we suggested to Mayor Bowser is that kids in DC need a mentoring program to guide them. She was very impressed with our ideas and said that she would help them come true to better our great city.

During the interview, as I was listening to Mayor Bowser answer our questions, I could tell that she was a very intelligent and open-minded person. She patiently listened to our requests and gave us good responses. Overall it was a good experience for me.  She also gave me the pen that signed the bill to change the summer jobs program name to Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program.

- Richard Okpala, 12th grade, Friendship Collegiate Academy.

The Time of my Life! Hello my names is Trevon Thomas and on Wednesday January 14, 2015, I met with Mayor Muriel Bowser at Friendship Tech Prep Academy. I really enjoyed my time with her. I was challenged to read a book called “The Audacity of Hope”  and came up with two recommendations to improve Washington, DC for the youth. My first recommendation was to improve the recreation centers by making more helpful programs for youth. The programs that I think will most benefit the recreation centers are mentoring programs and also job career prep classes or groups.  What was shocking to me was that Mayor Bowser agreed with me and really thought this was a good idea. She also told me that she will be making improvements by taking the old unhelpful programs out and putting new helpful programs in. My second recommendation was to improve the high schools by making more career academies and more college prep classes. Mayor Bowser told me, “You must be a mind reader because I was thinking the same thing.” She and her staff said “For me to see a young man such as yourself is good." Based on Mayor Bowser’s opinion, I was very happy and pleased to hear that I have someone older and wiser on my side. I am honored to have the chance to talk to Mayor Bowser.

- Trevon Thomas, 12th grade, Friendship Collegiate Academy.