Spurred by the motto "Hear us, don't fear us," dozens of Baltimore's young people gathered at the War Memorial Plaza building yesterday to speak their minds to a panel that included a federal judge, a city delegate and a police spokeswoman.
They wanted to know why $64 million was spent on a new juvenile detention facility when some schools don't have enough textbooks.
They wanted to know why there weren't more police outreach programs on the city's meaner streets.
They wanted to know why African-American kids are the most frequently suspended, arrested and incarcerated.
And they wanted everyone else to know that they were going to be seen and heard.
"The power is in numbers," said Christina Johnson, an 18-year-old who is going into her sophomore year at Villa Julie College. "If we have all these youth stomping down to City Hall, we can get something done."
Johnson is president of the Baltimore Youth Congress, which organized the day's Teen Speak-Out. Made up of 24 delegates and several hundred members from Baltimore City and Baltimore County between the ages of 12 and 21, the fledgling congress hopes to act as a voice for Baltimore's young people.
It is completely youth-run, and participants have suggested programs to the mayor's office, to state legislators and in the community.
In the group's two-year existence, members have run workshops designed to involve young people in politics, organized an education-assessment survey to help identify trouble spots and created a page program in which congress delegates work at City Council meetings.
Derrek Terrell, a 13-year-old going into eighth grade at Pimlico Middle School, is a delegate-in-training. He said he joined so he could make a difference.
"I want to correct injustices like drug use and police brutality," he said.
Derrek is halfway through his six-week training at the University of Maryland School of Law. The school is home of the congress, which grew from its Community Law in Action program, a leadership and advocacy training program for young people.
"Today [the congress] proved to Baltimore City that they could put together something like this," said Terry Hickey, a lawyer who founded the Community Law in Action program and the Baltimore Youth Congress. "The challenge now is to make it go somewhere."
Johnson said they'll do that by developing an agenda from the opinions voiced yesterday and use that as a basis for future discussions with the eight panel members.
Participating in the event were: U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis; city Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr.; police spokeswoman Angelique Cook-Hayes; Jamaal Moses, director of the mayor's Office for Children, Youth and Families; Cameron Miles from the Juvenile Justice Coalition; D'Antoine Webb, the student commissioner for Baltimore City public schools; Faraji Muhammad, president of the New Light Leadership Coalition activist group; and Dustin Turner, a youth delegate-in-training.
"I get a real sense of hope from what you all represent," Montague said to the audience of about 120. "You represent the leaders. ... You have a burden, a responsibility to everyone else in the room, in the state ... to convey your message to those people who make decisions. You may not be able to vote, but you can be heard."
The Baltimore Youth Congress meets from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays at the University of Maryland School of Law, 500 W. Baltimore St. For information, call 410-706-4898.