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September 30, 2014

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Sun Youth Forum:

Youths express passion on issues

Forum gives Southern Nevada teens a chance to share opinions with hundreds of their peers

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Steve Marcus

Jimmy Benoit of Las Vegas High School voices his opinion during the 2006 Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum at the Las Vegas Convention Center Tuesday.

The Sun Youth Forum was established 50 years ago to give Southern Nevada teens a voice - a sounding board on issues of the day and a way of expressing concerns about their future world.

It did not matter whether that voice came from the naive or the well-schooled, whether the kids said things adults wanted to hear or whether the opinions were - as they say today - politically correct.

Nowhere was that more evident than at Tuesday’s annual pre-Thanksgiving gathering at the Las Vegas Convention Center of the area’s best and brightest young minds - 828 students from 42 high schools .

Take for instance the issue of discrimination, which caused Amanda Remezani of Arbor View High to say passionately , “Everyone here is an immigrant … We all come from different places.”

Then she made other students’ jaws drop by saying that the proposal to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border is “ridiculous. How are they going to build a wall if they kick all of them out?”

Some Hispanic students, including the daughter of a man who illegally immigrated to Las Vegas from Mexico, questioned such a barrier’s effectiveness:

“If you build a fence, we’ll just hop over it,” said U.S.-born Adriana Corral, whose Mexican father is a working U.S. resident “who pays taxes here and everything,” she said.

Shawn Villanueva of Del Sol High said : “The fence (with Mexico) is a good idea. We have a right to secure our borders.”

The kids also weren’t afraid to speak out on U.S. shortfalls in the international arena.

Former Iraqi dictator “Saddam Hussein was not the greatest person, but he knew how to keep things under control over there,” said Kenji Roberts of Clark High. “We are not doing that.”

Johnny Amiri of Foothill High observed: “We cannot imperialistically spread democracy if the people of Iraq don’t choose it. We cannot build our government in their country.”

Haley Frischknecht of Centennial High added: “If we pulled out now it would be a catastrophe - worse than if we had not gone in. We have to slowly back away. Help them get on their feet.”

Some issues greatly divided the students. None more than abortion. Take this exchange between Brandy Cusic of Legacy High and Antonio Bell of Clark High:

Cusic: “Why not call it what it is - murder.”

Bell: “You cannot call it murder in all cases. What about rape?”

Cusic: “There’s adoption instead of taking away a whole existence.”

Bell: “How do you know the history, whether there was mental disorders” in the rapist’s family?

Danielle White of Foothill said : “Even if you make it illegal, it will still be going on. You are not going to stop it.”

And Diedre Spelts of Silverado High offered up this disturbing scenario: “I’d rather my 14-year-old daughter have an abortion, then go on with her life rather than give birth to the baby and leave it in a dumpster.”

The Sun Youth Forum was founded in 1956 by late Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun, who felt that adults were not listening enough to their kids.

His son, Brian, was a Forum participant as a youth and today is the newspaper’s president and editor. Along with his brother, Danny, president of the Greenspun Media Group, they are longtime Forum moderators.

Brain Greenspun told his group of about 35 students who were discussing the curfew law that when students complained at the first Sun Youth Forum in 1956 that there was nothing for teens in Las Vegas, the downtown Wildcat Lair youth entertainment club was established.

He told the students that if they could come up with compelling reasons, they might persuade lawmakers to extend the Strip curfew to midnight or later.

The Forum, which since its beginnings has been supported by the Clark County School District, has been recognized locally, statewide and nationally as one of the top youth programs. In 2004, the forum was inducted into the Excellence in Education Hall of Fame.

Past Forum participants include Senate Majority Leader-designate Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.

Berkley was a group moderator Tuesday, along with other community leaders such as U.S. District Judge Philip Pro, District Attorney David Roger and political analyst and “Face to Face” TV show host Jon Ralston.

“The students are idealistic and, despite their youth, many of their opinions are well formed,” Ralston said.

The Sun Youth Forum is directed by Brian Cram, director of the Greenspun Family Foundation and a former superintendent of Clark County schools.

Here is what students had to say Tuesday on a number of other issues:

Nuclear weapons: “All countries should have them, but we need a new body to regulate them. They are the ultimate invasion insurance.” - Brandon Ridenour, Arbor View.

Capital punishment: “The purpose of the death penalty is to make sure that a person does not commit that crime again.” - Aaron Macris, Faith Lutheran.

Afghanistan war: “We never finished it. It was like going to medical school and dropping out just before becoming a doctor. We should have finished the war there before going into Iraq.” - Erik Brizzee, Palo Verde.

Ban on feeding homeless in parks: “If you feed the homeless they will remain as a group in the parks and will not go to the homeless shelters to get the help they need.” - Christopher Baumgras, Rancho.

Assisted suicide: “It should be OK. It’s like putting an animal out of its misery. It’s more effective than leaving blood and gore everywhere.” - Dani Boyde, Southern Nevada Vocational Technical Center.

Equal rights for women: “Attitudes toward women have gotten a lot better, but I still hear comments that I’m just a stupid, dumb blonde. I hear a blond joke at least once a week. But when I kick their butts on tests I show them they are wrong.” - Dannelle Weinstein, Basic.