A community conversation: My youth forum experience

March 31, 2017

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a community forum to benefit the youth of Wilson County. Many of our leaders throughout the county felt that one of the best ways to better understand some of the current issues that youth face would be to actually hear from the youth themselves, and this forum was planned specifically for that. Panelists included students from local middle schools and high schools, as well as young adults such as myself. Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash, Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, Mt. Juliet Police Chief James Hambrick, and Lebanon Police Chief Mike Justice were in attendance, along with local clergy and other community and organizational leaders.

I became involved with this forum after two organizers reached out and asked me to be part of the conversation. Unsure of why my opinion mattered, I asked, “Why me?”  Xavier Smith, a reporter with the Lebanon Democrat and the moderator of the forum, told me, “As a Lebanon guy that has interacted with people from all walks of life while continuing to be a good father and role model, you understand both sides of the fence.” That was all it took to get me on board. Many of the same issues that have plagued the youth in our community, making headlines in our local papers and on our local news stations, have affected my church family as well as my immediate family.

The forum lasted more than two hours and covered a variety of topics like pressures faced from peers; mental health; drugs; family dynamics; faith; the decline in church attendance among millennials; community leadership; police relations; and social media (and the role it plays in all the aforementioned topics). A few of the questions that I found most interesting were ‘How should parents punish children that misbehave?’ and ‘What are today’s churches not doing that they should be to keep children in the church?’

Although the forum was organized to address negative issues within the community, it was an extremely positive affair, and it was a valuable experience serving as a panelist. One thing I learned was that there are numerous organizations in Wilson County that are eager to utilize the resources at their disposal to help others in any way possible, but there has been a lack of collaboration between organizations to maximize those efforts. Besides being an opportunity to bridge the gap between generations, the forum brought up the possibility for partnerships and teamwork to be established among community organizations.  In my eyes, that's something positive that could come from the forum, and I'm glad I could have a part in that.

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