Excuse me, Are you Listening?
Monday, October 26, 2009

Dear Readers,

Our children are our most precious resource.  I received an email from young residents of Lansing and thought that I would share their questions and my answers with you.

What can you do about violence in the community?

Violence in our community is real and prevalent. I believe that violence can be curtailed with education of both adults and children.  We should also work on alternative programs for students in high school who are experiencing problems.  Possibly it is time for our organizations to be more proactive in the school system.  Possibly it is time for the school district to be more proactive and establish a dress code or mandatory volunteer opportunities.  Some times encouraging our youth and believing in him or her can make a difference, as we have heard testimony about how they have made it through with guidance from an adult who really cares.   I believe that students should be involved with any process or change regarding school violence. 

While flying back from Atlanta, I had the distinct pleasure to sit next to Alice from Saginaw.  She told me that her son had been murdered at the tender age of 14.  It was as senseless crime and a part of a random crime spree.

She told me that she thought that renewal of communities should start with the churches.  The idea that churches become more involved in the community is not new but if the community also became an extension of the church and began to work together to clean up neighborhoods and provide different options for our youth it would be more reciprocal.  We need more mentors and those who can connect troubled youth to the resources and persons that can be impactful.
It is my goal to have a symposium on violence and I have spoken with the Perspective 2, which is a multipurpose event venue regarding having a photo shoot with families of murder victims with an item that reminds them of their lost loved one, to help the family with closure.
How can you stop the drugs flowing around the city?

It is very disturbing that no one has brought up the issue of drugs.  I would convene groups of individuals and figure out what the primary drug problems are in the community.  The more people that are armed with facts and the procedure for ridding their neighborhood of drugs the less likely will it occur.  Residents must work with the Lansing Police Department to arm themselves with information.  More neighborhood residents need to be involved in protecting their community.  In my neighborhood, I will talk to strangers if they are loitering.  Just asking the question, “Can I help you find the house that you are looking for?” or “Are you lost?” may put the loiterer in a different space.  I live on West Grand River and Chestnut and my neighborhood was riddled with drug users, prostitution and dealers.  A few neighbors banned together and made a difference.  Now I am proud to say that we have minimal problems.
What can you do to make the neighborhoods better?

In my neighborhood, we used to have the North Network Center. When they advised us that it was closing they said that the new organization, NorthWest Initiative, would have children's programming.  The North Network Center had chess, tutoring, 4-H, sports and other activities.  It concerned me that the replacement was not providing opportunities for a good majority of the children in my neighborhood.  The answer that I received most of the time was there was no money for that.

My backyard became the neighborhood basketball court but neighbors need to become more involved in the process of making a neighborhood better.  When you know someone's name it becomes more personal.

But I had an event entitled “Que'n with Kids”   we served hotdogs, brownies and juice.  We even recycled 70% of the waste products.  It was an amazing experience and almost 150 people came out.  We gave out packages with information regarding the summer programs that were available.  We also had disabled youth at my home and a dee jay.  We played games and it was a great time.  When you can't get the establishment to provide entertainment it is then up to individuals to get information to the community.

I would also recommend that people get to know their neighbors more.  Even if you don't like them, it is best to try and maintain a good relationship.  I talk to almost everyone who passes by.  I know names of people and their pets.  It is helpful to even know those who you believe you are afraid of.
How can you put activities in the neighborhoods?

We are already putting activities in the neighborhoods.  There are so many events that neighborhoods can have to promote health and wellness.

We put on a free program every year to encourage students to write more entitled “Poetry in the Park”.  This program occurs in the summer.
Why doesn't the city have more activities for young people?

They do have activities but some of the activities you have to pay for or they are just not interesting to the young people.  I believe that “the powers that be” should convene a group of young people and listen to what they have to say regarding the types of entertainment and activities they want, how to finance it and what are the repercussions if rules are broken. 

I have recently been in contact with some of the mothers of those who have been murdered.  We have several unsolved murders of very young people in Lansing.  I have been working all summer with Peace & Prosperity and Ingham Change Initiative.  There were 9 events this summer for free.  There were cultural events, fashion shows, a business event and many more opportunities for the youth to be involved. For more information log on to http://coalitionforyouth.org/Power_of_9.php.  I have assisted from the beginning volunteering many hours and using my resources to find venues to have the events, donating items and assisting with finding speakers.  We can all work together and provide resources. 

How can you make the school district better?

While I don't have jurisdiction over the school district, I believe that the community should be more involved with students. There are many opportunities to volunteer in the schools and also to be an encouraging light.  I have volunteered at Sexton High School, both as a poetry instructor and speaking about journalism.  I make it my business to volunteer.  I have also volunteered at Pattengill Middle School,  Cavanaugh Middle School, Averill Middle School and Shabazz Academy (which is a charter school). 

I believe also that students should have access to officials.  They should be invited to City Council not only for special ceremonies but to understand the process of City government and how it related to their everyday life.  For example, students should be able to visit the Director of Parks and Recreation and find out what goes into running Lansing's parks or it can be as simple as taking an interest in finding out more about the BMX park or the skate park. I have done many speaking engagements as well and have taken surveys from many youth from the ages of 15-17 in the recent years.
There are also certain groups that the school district should use more as a resource like, the Kinship Care Program, I am a part of the advisory committee and I am not a kinship care provider.  There are grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings raising their relatives.  This is extremely stressful situation and the group provides extra resources.

Personally, I think that shadowing day should consist of a lot more than just taking a student to your job.  It should be about establishing a relationship with the student.  At least getting to know the person, maybe that day should entail taking the student to the Capitol Building.  As representatives of the city, we need to do more when it comes to our youth.  There needs to be more speaking engagements.  I have had the opportunity to speak for over 200 10th, 11th and 12th grade students at Michigan State University's Upward Bound Program.  I have also spoken at Lansing Community College and Michigan State University.  I have also spoken to groups of young women who were a part of the Ingham County Juvenile Court system.

How can you help the students get their GED/high school diplomas?
I always tell students the best revenge is to be successful in whatever you do.   I understand the importance of education.  Youth up to ages 21 are important and education is key to taking care of community and self.   I currently work with the Jepthah Program, which is held at Bethlehem Temple.  The program helps young people get their high school diploma and also obtain job skills while they are working on their GED.  I am proud to say that the first graduate from the program, worked as an intern at The New Citizens Press, which I own.  My intern still is in contact with me and I believe she has overcome amazing odds to graduate from school.

Why should we trust you with this responsibility?

I have already been in the community finding new and innovative ways to get community members more involved in this city.  I will be more open and understand the changing dynamic of our community, and I care.  I will listen to opportunities that youth bring to the table and support entertainment ideas.  The youth need someone who wants to be involved with them for years not just during an election cycle and I would be that candidate.
I would like to thank Lashanda Thomas, Tony Mack, Jr., Rashad Berkley and Anthony Price, who are students from Education Options for their insight.

On the campaign trail, I often asked myself where are the students and youth, where are the people who are concerned about families who have been impacted by violence and failed educational opportunities? Why are we only talking about beautifying the Riverwalk, when people actually live under the bridges?  Why isn't anyone asking about violence in community?  Do people care about our young people who want to leave our community because they don't feel like there is anyplace to work or to have fun?  So I answered their questions with pleasure.

When the Twin Towers fell in New York no one talked about the building that housed beautiful fountains and restaurants.  They  were concerned about the people who were in the building and today that is still the case. 

Beautifying Lansing is important but let’s also open a dialogue about the people of Lansing and how we can assist them better in their daily lives.


Rina Risper

Vote on Tuesday, November 3rd for your People-tician.


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