Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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Sun Youth Forum:

Sun gives teens forum to speak out on issues

Impassioned debate on foreign affairs, personal accounts of teen pregnancy, insightful revelations about affirmative action and tempered reactions to child abuse set the tone for the 40th annual SUN Youth Forum. But Tuesday’s event at the Las Vegas Convention Center was not brimming with politicians jockeying for a podium to air the views or under siege by lobbyists scampering behind the scenes.

The Youth Forum gave nearly 900 teens from 30 area high schools an opportunity to voice their concerns on issues affecting their lives, livelihoods and and, more important, their futures. Participants didn’t end the day with solutions for all the world’s social ills but they had ample opportunity to air their views during the five-hour sessions in seven general areas. Students covered a host of topics, including gun laws, teacher pay, Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, trade with Japan and mass transportation.

Affirmative action is gradually wearing out its welcome. Most students in the “America” discussion group espoused the need to continue it, but others vehemently opposed it.

“I don’t know if I’m stupid for believing in the system, but I think that if two people go in for a job interview that the best one will be hired,” said Stevie Hemsley of the Las Vegas Academy.

Majorie Gipson of Sunset West said, “I want to be hired because I do this job better than anyone else. I meet two quotas in one, but by the year 2010 the white man will be in the minority. So who will hire people based on minority status?”

Michael Webster of Chaparral said: “In no uncertain terms, affirmative action is racism and we have to get rid of it. It goes against the American way of life.”

Other students argued that racism is also an American way of life.

“A lot of uneducated Americans can’t be trusted to be fair,” said Scott Baily of Silverado. “I think you shouldn’t put race, gender or even name on an application and it should just be evaluated on qualifications.”

No more Vietnams

In the “Around the World” session, students said the United States has to pick its battles wisely in dealing with conflicts in other regions of the world. No one wanted a repeat of the Vietnam War.

“There is always going to be conflict, all you can do is regulate it with fear, intimidation and force,” said Eldorado’s Ryan Lindsay, speaking of Bosnia. “So if that’s what we want to do, we should go in and do it - no half-stepping.”

Errol Campbell, also of Eldorado, agreed: “It’s all or nothing. Sending a few troops over there is not going to stop it and I don’t want them (the government) sending my American brothers over there to die when they can handle it themselves.”

Cindy Morgan of Chaparral said if the loss of a few American lives can save “thousands and thousands of people, it’s worth it, and for anyone to say otherwise is really selfish.”

Robert Whittmann of the Las Vegas Academy agreed. “We have a role in the region because of a commitment to allies there. If you have the power and the ability to help, why not do it?”

Abuse or discipline?

Students in the “Potpourri” group agreed that discipline is necessary and physical discipline is possible without resulting in abuse. But most were hazy on where the line should be drawn.

“What kind of education does it take to realize that beating your child is wrong?” asked Dave Van Hooser of Bonanza. He demonstrated the scenario on himself, throwing his head from side to side and slapping his hand for sound effects, “What are they going to say? Yeah, this is OK, but this is wrong.”

In the room of about 60 students, only a few raised their hand when prompted with the question of whether slamming a 13-year-old into a wall is child abuse. Almost everyone raised their hand when the child’s age was lowered to 6.

“I once got a black eye and a fat lip for something I did that was supposed to be wrong and (later) an agent from Child Protective Services told me that it is illegal to even spank a child,” a VoTech student said. “I don’t think it should be taken to that extreme where we can’t event (physically) discipline our children.”

Sexuality and pregnancy

Teen pregnancy is not something that happens to other kids, it happens to any kid who doesn’t protect herself from the “horizontal tango,” said Mindy Davison of VoTech. “I thought I was Wonder Woman and I couldn’t get pregnant. It’s not just about distributing more birth-control information. I knew about birth control and that didn’t stop me from having two kids.”

Davison added that kids need to know the consequences - AIDS, expenses, responsibility - not just the precautions to deter them. Tonia Pujabi of Chaparral agreed: “Even in the ’90s sex is such a hush-hush thing, but people are still doing it, so we need to open up and inform them.”

Responding to male responsibility for teen pregnancy, Elvis South of Cheyenne said it doesn’t embarrass him for a girl to ask for a condom. “When I’m in that situation, that is the first thing on my mind,” he said.

Kimani “Benjamin” Kamau of Durango said that even in the best of situations, accidents happen and guys should never shirk their responsibility.

“The guy should never run out on a woman,” Kamau said. “You don’t have to stay with her and get married, but they do need to stay around for the child and help raise and support them. The child needs that from both parents.”

SUN Editor Brian Greenspun ended the day by distributing certificates to all the participants and plaques to the moderators.

“Hopefully , you all learned to disagree respectfully and responsibly, because as many of you become leaders you need to disagree respectfully and responsibly, which is something some leaders of today lack,” Greenspun said.