Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Forest Park Teen Council members (from left) Amoni Ethridge, Ky’Wan Parker, David Hickson and Anastasia Star thank Forest Park City Council for supporting the group.
By Kathy Jefcoats
FOREST PARK — In a mayoral race where the prevailing campaign issues could be unemployment, the development of Fort Gillem or attracting new businesses, the future of Teen Council has emerged as the hot political football.
Four members of Teen Council addressed City Council Monday night to thank the board for supporting the leadership group and asked for continued assistance. However, comments made by mayoral candidate David Lockhart drew the ire of the teens who questioned him about his support if he's elected. His opponent, Sparkle Adams, founded Teen Council in 2008 and has called its future into question depending on the outcome of the April 16 runoff.
Lockhart said he thought Teen Council should look for a broad base of leadership and not rely on one person for its existence. Teen Council leaders Ky'Wan Parker, David Hickson, Amoni Ethridge and Anastasia Star confronted Lockhart after the meeting about his comments. Star's mother, Angenetta Williams, also spoke to Lockhart.
"We need Council for support, to get things done," said Parker. "We can't do this by ourselves, we need the community. The whole point of Teen Council is to get people to take us seriously."
Parker said the group is glad to take the initiative on some issues but relies on an experienced person or people to help guide them. Ethridge said Lockhart's comments made her feel unwelcome.
"It makes it seem that you want no part of it and we're on our own," she said. "Your word choice doesn't make us feel comfortable."
Lockhart told the teens they needed to be more self-sufficient.
"I don't think your existence should depend on one person," he said. "For a lot of reasons, I'd like to see a broad base of leaders to benefit Teen Council. For the most part, I'd like to see you self-run, that all you need, more or less, are sponsors."
He told them relying on one person doesn't expose Teen Council to enough resources.
"If you pull from one council member or the weight of the mayor, you have access to what they have access to," said Lockhart. "It's limited and less expansive that it would be if you had a broad base of the community promoting and assisting you."
The exchange got testy when Adams asked Lockhart her own questions about Teen Council. Lockhart chastised her for interrupting him.
"Build a bridge and get over it," she said. "If you get elected mayor, you're going to have to deal with way worse than that."
The two candidates verbally sparred for about a minute but kept it cordial and Lockhart returned his attention to the teens and Star's mother, Williams. She said she worried about the future of the teens if they lose this activity.
"As a parent, I've seen extensive growth in my child," said Williams. "She's getting college offers to study political aspects in school. They've just worked so hard and I've seen them grow so much. I call them 'my kids' because they are and I get emotional about this. This isn't just about their involvement in the community, this has helped them so much in school."
Lockhart seemed to agree.
"I want to keep all the positive things but I want to avoid having one person in charge and have the whole thing collapse," he said. "Teen Council has my absolute support and, should I get elected, we as City Council should do what is necessary to ensure the survival of Teen Council."
Adams formed Teen Council to teach middle and high school students leadership skills and how to become a valuable member of their community. Since 2008, the teens have donated thousands of volunteer hours to Forest Park, attended seminars and workshops geared toward helping them get into college and the workforce, and learned etiquette and manners.
Teen Council has also participated in state and national programs established to help them build the foundations of adulthood.
Teen Council includes four of the top 15 students graduating this year from Forest Park High School.