Ypsilanti’s young people pack the AM 1700 studio to speak truth to power, and the music of Soft Milk… on episode 24 of the Saturday Six Pack

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This past weekend’s episode of The Saturday Six Pack, as I suspect most of you already know, started coming together earlier this summer, after the gang-related murder of 20 year old Keandre Duff, who had been shot in the head and killed just after midnight on the morning of July 12 at an Ypsilanti block party. Several people in the community asked me to devote a show to the subject of teen violence and the subsequent crack-down by police. Some wanted me to ask members of local law enforcement what they were dong to keep us safe. Others wanted me to ask these same people what they were doing to ensure that, in responding to these events, the civil rights of Ypsilanti’s young people weren’t violated. So I began putting a show together. The more I thought about it, though, the more it seemed like the scope needed to be more board than just law enforcement. [As Sheriff Jerry Clayton has said in the past, “You can’t just enforce your way to a better community.”] There were several underlying issues, it seemed to me, that needed to be discussed, like the fact that jobs are hard to come by these days for teens in our community, and recreational activities are becoming more scarce as our elected officials continue to prioritize tax cuts over community services. So I started to think more broadly about the issue, and consider ways to get teens themselves involved in the show. And the show that we broadcast on Saturday was a culmination of those efforts.

Not only did we have Mayor Amanda Edmonds, Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, Superintendent of Ypsilanti Community Schools Dr. Benjamin Edmondson, and Ypsilanti Chief of Police Tony DeGiusti in the studio, talking about issues of importance to Ypsi’s teens, but we actually had about a dozen young people with us as well, asking questions, contributing solutions, and just sharing with us what it’s like to be a young person in our community right now. I know we’ve had some pretty incredible shows in the past, but this one really felt right to me, like we were finally starting to tap into the real potential of community radio.

[If you would like to listen to episode twenty-four of The Saturday Six Pack, you can either download it from iTunes or scroll the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the Soundcloud file embedded.]

I was going to go into detail as to what was covered on the show, but you should really just make the time and listen to these young people from Dedicated to Make a Change, the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR), and Ozone House, who collectively represented almost all of our local schools. They were incredible, and they deserve your time and attention. Here are some of their photos, followed a few very brief notes concerning what was covered. [All photos courtesy AM 1700 staff photographer Kate de Fuccio and Nick Azzaro from Chin-Azzaro Studio.]

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And here are nine bullets, for those of you who refuse to listen despite my pleas.

1. “There’s nothing for us to do in Ypsilanti.” It’s smoothing we heard a lot of during the first half of the show. Some of the kids pointed to the disparity between Ann Arbor and our community, where the Parks and Recreation Department was disbanded due to lack of funds almost a decade ago. “Why don’t we have a youth center?,” they ask. While the Ozone Drop-In Center is great, they say, they’d love to have a place that could accommodate more people, and stay open longer than two hours a day. If we had such a place, they told us, young people would be less likely to just smoke and hang out. Superintendent Edmondson shares that he’s been asking people in the community, like the CEO of St. Joe’s, to purchase one of Ypsi’s recently closed public schools, and reopen it as a recreation center for this very reason.

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2. These kids, to quote Sheriff Clayton, aren’t looking for a handout. They just want “a clear path so that they can get it for themselves.” They want a level playing field and an opportunity to prove themselves. This was driven home by one of the young women in the studio who, after telling us how she’d grown up homeless with an addicted mother who worked as a prostitute, went on to say that her struggles have inspired her to do more with her life. She says she’s working three jobs right now, and wants to go on to become a social worker. “I can be anything I want to be,” she says. And it’s something that we’d hear repeatedly over the course of the 90 minutes we spent together. These kids aren’t asking to given things. They want opportunities. They want jobs. They want a chance to prove themselves and contribute.

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3. After Superintendent Edmondson notes that he won’t hesitate to expel students that are making it more difficult for others to learn, several young women in the studio challenge him on it, saying that we need to reconsider policies that put people out of school, where they’re more apt to make bad decisions. [This is one of many discussions that I’d like to return to in future episodes.]

4. Mayor Edmonds calls on people in the community who send their children to private schools, or to Ann Arbor public schools, to come back to Ypsi Community Schools. Doing so, she says, will not only bring more money to our district, increasing the resources we have available for the children here, but it will help make our community stronger. Even if you don’t sender children to school here, she says, you should still get involved in local public education, working with the kids who are here. And she commends Edmondson for giving people in the community opportunities to engage and get involved.

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5. We talk a lot about jobs and programs through various entities to help young people secure employment. One young woman says she has a friend who, at 14, wants to get a job and start helping her mother take care of their struggling family, but can’t find anyone to hire her. We discuss programs through Ozone House and elsewhere. [It makes me happy to see kids telling one anther about resources in the community.] Superintendent Edmondson announces that he hopes to roll a program out in January that would see every 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grader in Ypsi Community Schools interning for a local business two hours a week, learning both life and job skills. [Edmondson says on a few occasions that we aren’t helping children by shielding them from the realities of life. He says we need to demand more from them.] Edmondson says 20 local companies have already contacted him, expressing interest in participating in the program. One of those companies, for what it’s worth, isn’t really a company… it’s the Saturday Six Pack radio program. [More on this in the near future.]

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6. We talk about how law enforcement officers are perceived within the community. One young woman says she sees them in a positive light. A young many says, while he has good relations with an officer who has been assigned to his school, his friends say that the police are not their friends, and only exist to “get you into trouble.” Clayton and DeGiusti outline the steps they’ve taken to build trust in the community, like reading to kids in elementary school, and hosting sessions where members of the community and officers engage in dialogue. Two such meetings, says Clayton, are planned for young people in out community later this year. [Stay tuned for more information.]

7. “We’ve failed our youth in a number of ways,” says Sheriff Clayton, “but let’s not forget the parents.” I suggest that we also need support services for adults who want to be better parents but lack the skills. A young man in the studio suggests that some adults don’t really care to become better parents. Sheriff Clayton says that all adults in the community need to pitch in, and that it has to be a concerted effort on all of our parts to help our young people. We need to set high expectations for your kids, and hold them accountable, he says.

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8. One of the young men from Dedicated to Make a Change shares that there will be an event at the Parkridge Community Center on Wednesday, August 26, between 6:00 and 8:00 PM on how young people can positively interact with members of law enforcement. Both Clayton and DeGiusti promised to send officers to participate.

9. Mayor Edmonds, when talking about how we can do a better job of hearing young people, says that City Council is considering the possibility of starting a Youth Commission. She also advises that the young people in the room keep speaking up, even if adults act as though their voices don’t matter. “Keep showing up and using your voice,” she says. She references a recent decision by the organizers of Ypsilanti’s Heritage Fest to exclude young people not accompanied by adults. “I’m devastated that teens aren’t welcome,” she says. “That’s a huge message that we’re sending.”

There was a lot more, but, as I’m falling asleep, that’ll have to suffice. You really should listen to the audio, though. I know you’re busy, but you can surely spare 90 minutes, right?

…When the segment was over, we all went outside, hung out for a while, and took photos. I went around and thanked everyone for participating. My sense, and I could be wrong, was that, at least for some of the kids, this could have been the first time that an adult ever shook their hand and thanked them for contributing. One hopes that a few of them, perhaps feeling a bit more empowered as a result of this meeting, will take out Mayor up on her challenge to them that they keep speaking up. Who knows, maybe one of them could even get involved on the Heritage Festival board and change their policy toward teens, or start showing up at City Council meetings, demanding they follow through on the promise of a Youth Commission.

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And once the kids were gone, and the beers were opened, Eli Stevick and Dylan Beckwith of the band Soft Milk joined us in the studio. Among other things, we talked about GG Allin’s mustache, the sounds made by ghosts, what carpenter ants taste like, how easy it is to float in mud, why they prefer to perform in the nude, and the circumstances which led an English boy to move into their attic. And they played three or four songs to boot. Here they are telling me about how a friend of theirs “felt his first chest” in the trailer Iggy Pop grew up in. We also talked an inordinately long time about Libertarian breakfast spots and local gas station produce. Our segment ended with a call from one of their fans in England.

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Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, and Brian Robb for running the board, keeping the bills paid, and the toilet paper stocked.

If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.

AND NOW, THANKS TO SCIENCE, YOU CAN LSTEN FOR YOURSELF:

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14 Comments

  1. Posted August 24, 2015 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Here’s how AM 1700 owner Brian Robb summed up this episode.

    “This show finds Mark throwing all applicable national fire code laws in the trash and setting them alight as he fills the AM1700 studio with nearly 30 participants—including two elected officials, two heads of law enforcement, and the superintendent of Ypsilanti Community Schools—for his most ambitious show to date. He talks directly with teens about issues that affect them and how adults may to help to improve their safety, their educational experiences, their job prospects, and their lives. It was uncomfortable for the adults to hear, but the kids didn’t pull any punches as they told their elders exactly what’s going on in their daily lives. It was just the kind of straight-talk the adults needed. Whether or not they were actually listening is something the kids will just have to monitor. In the second hour, Eli Stevick and Dylan Beckwith of the band Soft Milk try their best to destroy the AM1700 sound system with a couple of songs about eating ants and the collapse of the international financial markets. The show ends with Mark learning it’s always best to fake a listener phone call from outside the studio, rather than from inside.”

  2. Anonymous
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Was anyone else disappointed to hear the Superintendent talk about how students “play” the restorative justice system? I don’t doubt that some take advantage of the system, but I’d rather hear our Superintendent share ideas as to how he would fix the system than discount it completely.

  3. Kim
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    The story told by the girl from Ozone House about growing up homeless was one of the most heartbreaking and yet inspiring things I have ever heard. Anyone who advocates cutting social services should be made to listen to what she has to say. What a powerful advocate for programs serving children. I would like to hear more from her. Thank you for this.

  4. Holly
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    For those of us who are a bit newer to Ypsilanti and want to get involved, what’s a good place to start? My wife and I don’t have kids ourselves but we’ve often talked of participating in a mentorship-type of thing, or I’d be open to teaching art classes or tutoring. Gotta put my education degree to use at some point.

  5. kjc
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Holly,
    Mentor2Youth is looking for volunteers.

    http://www.mentor2youth.com/

  6. Heather Steenrod
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Mark, for being a thoughtful and important voice and for your continual support of young people in our community! Ozone House will continue to provide resources, shelter, food, safety, and support for all youth, and we’re excited to see folks come together to support a common mission.

  7. XXX
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Have the people behind the Heritage Festival come out and explained why the chose to exclude young people? I found it incredibly ironic that kids were in the studio talking about how there weren’t things for them to do while a supposedly “community” event was taking place a short walk away that they weren’t welcome at.

  8. Demetrius
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t know what really happened, but in recent years there have been many reports of “groups” of young people threatening/fighting with each other at the Heritage Festival, and generally making some other patrons feel unwelcome, or unsafe.

    If this IS happening, I’m not saying that profiling or “banning” young people from the Heritage Festival is an appropriate (or even particularly effective) way to handle this situation, but to act like Heritage Festival organizers simply made this choice arbitrarily, seems a bit disingenuous.

  9. Posted August 25, 2015 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Dedicated to Make a Change was delighted to be part of this show. Having the voice of youth was a brave move by Mark. Three Cheers.
    The teens at DTMAC, propose these changes in order foster a better community. One, which examines the root, causes of kids with guns.
    From our experiences we know there are on rules in fighting and people show that they don’t care about taking someone else’s life.
    We want to provide a way for teens to learn how to express anger. With these skills, teens can role model positive interactions between one another.
    1. Support activities like teen parties, Rec area, better relationships between law enforcement and teens.
    2. Empower job fair for teens between 13-17, tutoring to ensure passing grades,
    3. Free bus fare

    Dedicated to Make a Change will continue to work on these issues to develop a positive and safe community.

  10. Steven
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Thanks. I just learned that we have some pretty incredible kids in this community. I’m proud of Ypsilanti today.

  11. 734
    Posted August 25, 2015 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    The Mayor mentioned the possibility of the city starting a Youth Commission. What would this commission be charged with? Would they have a budget? Would they have any power?

  12. Posted August 25, 2015 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Loved hearing from these amazing youth! Kudos to them and the organizations that supported them in being there. Thanks Mark for facilitating this kind of conversation.

  13. Jean Henry
    Posted August 26, 2015 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Kudos! Great show. Teenagers are so rarely given a chance to voice their experience in the presence of adults in power. From whta I’ve seen, they always rise to the occasion. They have inherited a hot mess of a world. But they also have clear voices and resilience. We owe them our attention. I would love to hear more addressing the school to prison pipeline and alternatives to out of school suspension. Ann Arbor has a huge education gap to contend with and also what I call a suspension gap. I would not doubt Ypsi is the same. There are alternatives. Simple in school suspensions work well to reduce recidivism. We all saw the footage in Texas where the Black teens were made to sit down and the white teens were not addressed by police, even allowed to film the whole fiasco. Well from what I hear from Ann Arbor teens, a similar phenomenon happens in school discipline. Two students participate in an altercation and the Black student is suspended, or both face disciplinary action and the white student’s parent’s advocate for their child and get the punishment reduced. I do not think this is intentional racism; it’s just implicit bias & privilege at work. I know that it has long term consequences though. The numbers are there. Kids who face out of school suspensions are much more likely to end up in juvi and then face adult imprisonment. I know some kids who have faced this. They are regular kids with problems. They need help. I have yet to see any of them get the help they need within the disciplinary system. Once they internalize the idea of themselves as a bad person, they lose all that resilience. It’s very sad. Have a show. Get some kids on there who have been in the system. There I believe are also some U-M profs who study the school to prison pipeline. If you want I cna follow up with some names/links. This phenomenon is not restricted to underserved communities. It’s present across the board, everyplace in America, moneyed or not. And people are unaware.

  14. Colleen from Ozone
    Posted September 1, 2015 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I just listed to the second half of the podcast last night. I’m struck by how many folks you were able to gather for this important conversation and so appreciative of your inclusion of young people. We’ve been talking a lot about the podcast around the Drop-In which has lead to some good discussions about podcasting, the radio, community building, and Ypsi.

3 Trackbacks

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