With the temperature of the 2014 political season running as hot as a car with a bad radiator, The Memphis Youth Manifesto – a wing of The New Olivet Baptist Church run independently by young adults – held it’s annual political forum on Tuesday.
Headed up by the Rev. Antonio Sims and the Rev. Kirstin Cheers, the event held at Arrow Academy of Excellence, 645 Semmes St., allowed Memphis youth to ask politicians whatever they wished. The exchange between the politically explorative youth and a panel of politicians was a made-to-order educational experience.
“I look at things and I look at them from the point of an educator. I ask you all to be more involved with the school board,” said Freda Garner Williams, who is running for School Board District 1. “Whether you are in school or have already graduated, your community needs you. If you have decided to just move on with your life and only attend to the things that you believe directly affect you, then you leave that school board to its on devices and that is not a good thing.”
That is especially true if there is no educator around to speak out and challenge some of the issues that are obviously wrong or not in the best interest of the children, said Williams, who served as president of the old Memphis City Schools board.
Leitha Conley had this question for Williams: “For those seniors that are in high school right now, what are your plans for them?”
“The first thing I would do is make sure they all know that they have opportunities to further their education for free right here in Memphis. That they don’t have to go to some of our large universities and be out of all that money for tuition,” said Williams. “The second thing I would do is make sure they understood the process and timing they have to be familiar with as far as applying for college and the different applications.
“The third thing I would do is make sure they know how to invest themselves because fun is good but there is a time and place for fun. Also, I have always believed that there should be at least one student on the school board so that the youth can feel even more comfortable approaching the board with suggestions and other things as well.”
The candidates on hand included City Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon, who is running for Juvenile Court Judge. Sugarmon introduced himself as a graduate of Morehouse College (1978), noting that it also is the alma mater of the Rev. Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr., pastor of The New Olivet Baptist Church, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I’m very impressed that you all have come out to be informed about politics. I have always lived up to my family’s tradition of giving back to your community. My father and mother instilled that value among others into me as a small child,” said Sugarmon. “I encourage you all to vote and to be consistent voters because voting is very important. The responsibility of citizenship and voting are very important.”
Speaking directly about juveniles, Sugarmon, the son of retired Circuit Court Judge and civil right’s icon Russell Sugarmon, shared some numbers.
“Shelby County is only 14 percent of the state of Tennessee population yet we are responsible for 56 percent of the transfer from Juvenile Court to adult court and that's a problem,” he said. “It is a problem from the way that it is set up, the way that the matters are adjudicated and tried there. That’s what has lead to the way that minorities have been unfairly treated there.”
Sugarmon described himself as “a vote of change,” saying he would introduce a mentor program “where we assign adults to kids to make sure that they are going to school and getting their school work; someone that cares and desires to work with the school and that particular child’s parent. Yes, this has been done before, but it hasn’t been done by me.”
With news breaking about federal monitors being assigned to keep an eye on the Aug. 7th elections, Sugarmon was asked for his thoughts about the development.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing and I say they should’ve been here,” said Sugarmon. “We welcome them here. There are many errors in the process and it’s time we got them in order. When the numbers don’t match up that is a huge problem.”