Students motivated to improve Dayton after L.A. youth summit

Two Dayton Public Schools students got to participate in the United States Conference of Mayors’ Youth Summit in Los Angeles last month, coming back with motivation to make a difference in their own community.

Chaz Amos, a Thurgood Marshall senior, and Marcellis Thompson, a senior at Dunbar, were among dozens of high school and college students from 30 cities who worked with mayors, academics and activists on ways to energize youth to solve problems.

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“We got to have fun, but we knew once we got back to the ballroom, it was time for business,” Amos said. “The best session was on fostering youth voter engagement. We were coming up with all these different strategies and programs … everybody in the room felt passionate about what we were there for.”

The students attended with Dayton City Commissioner Jeff Mims, who helps run the city’s Men of Color program, and Joshua Nalls, a facilitator with Dayton Public Schools’ related Males of Color office. Mims said event sponsors Bank of America and United Airlines paid for the students’ airfare and lodging.

The summit, hosted by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and other mayors, included sessions on building youth councils and organizing town halls, creating a culture of service, plus the voter engagement work.

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Thompson said the event built on his confidence and willingness to reach out to new people. He said that’s a challenge for a lot of black youth, adding that he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in if Ron Brooks of the Men of Color hadn’t reached out to him first.

“For my senior year, he put me as a leader of the Males of Color, to change the younger kids’ perspective — it’s not just about basketball or looking good for the ladies. It’s about your grades, too,” Thompson said. “That’s one of the big things we’re trying to change at Dunbar – everybody having their grades right, not just trying to be an athlete.”

Nalls said a key to building young leaders is to give them opportunities and get out of the way.

“I think it’s big for adults to learn from the youth. Start listening,” he said. “How can we really understand their needs if they don’t tell us what they are? We have to shut up sometimes and listen to them.”

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Amos said they worked with students who are very accomplished at a young age, such as Vikiana Petit-Homme, the 17-year-old executive director of March for Our Lives Boston, and an advocate for lowering the voting age. Petit-Homme was recently named one of the Boston Globe’s Bostonians of the Year.

But others were impressed with Dayton’s efforts, too. Amos was working with a college student who wants to make a nationwide event out of the March to the Polls that Mims and the Dayton Black Elected Officials group runs. Mims helps high school seniors register to vote, then they meet as a group to march to the Board of Elections to cast their first ballots.

Amos came back motivated for a mentoring initiative he’s been working on. He urges students to get comfortable with who they are and push out of their comfort zones.

“The world won’t come to you; you have to make your mark, whatever that is,” he said. “We all have different traits and skills that make us who we are. If you don’t put yourself out there, nobody will do it for you.”

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