Students, parents and politicians gathered together for the Mount Vernon Youth Talk event at Allen Memorial Church Of God In Christ, located at 132 Allen Memorial Church Plaza (Crary Ave). It was hosted by the City of Mount Vernon Youth Bureau on Monday, June 13 in efforts to engage young people about a variety of issues and topics pertaining to the city.
The program included youth panelists who each had an opportunity to ask questions to the invited elected officials that were previously submitted by others. Among the elected officials were County Legislator Tyrae Woodson-Samuels, Congressman Jamaal Bowman, County Executive George Latimer and County Legislator David Tubiolo.
Some of the topics that were discussed included how the youth can become more involved in local government, school safety, the completion of Memorial Field, medical facilities, and mental health services.
“It was important for me to be a panelist because I felt like there aren’t a lot of youth, especially in Mount Vernon who actually try to effect change,” said Gaila Battle, peer specialist at the Youth Shelter Program of Westchester. “As a young person who’s been born and raised in Mount Vernon, I thought it was important, for especially the younger youth, to see young people can make a change too.”
One issue that the panelists were vocal about included the abandoned properties in Mount Vernon that have contributed to the depreciation of neighboring homes. Additionally, “the lowest income neighborhoods of Mt. Vernon, found in zip code 10550, were the most negatively affected, with 58% of the total calculated property value loss affecting homes in that zip code” according to a 2017 report by Senator Jeff Klein and Senator Jamaal Bailey.
“On the county level, I’m the chair of the housing committee and what I’ve done so far is I’ve reached out to my county association which is called NYSAC and I’m looking for funding right now to see what money and what resources we have available to then lend to the city of Mount Vernon to clean up these zombie homes,” said Tyrae Woodson-Samuels, Westchester County Legislator, at the event.
Additionally, some youth attendees like Day-von Jackson, 21, were interested in hearing about Mount Vernon Hospital, given the fight that nurses and community allies did to keep it open. Jackson, who is currently studying diagnostic medical sonography at Monroe College, would like to one day give back to Mount Vernon by providing medical assistance.
“I wouldn’t mind working here because this is where I’m from you know,” Jackson said. “I feel like it’s a sense of pride to bring something to the city to do your part.”
The panelists also asked questions about about mental health services and hiring trained counselors for students at school. In response, Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden who served as the executive director of the City of Mount Vernon Youth Bureau, encouraged the youth to become the next generation of trained mental health professionals.
“We need to look to all of you because there is a shortage of qualified individuals that can work on mental health issues,” Harris-Madden said. “So I would challenge all of you in the room to consider maybe becoming a psychologist…if you want to see change we have to see ourselves reflected in places that we’re in.”
62.7 percent of the population in Mount Vernon is Black and 17.4 percent is Hispanic or Latino according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Being able to see representation in local government is also what some people believe will encourage the youth to get involved in community efforts. The Hispanic population in Westchester County is also becoming more prevalent as it is the “third most common ethnic group,” according to data from Data USA.
“There’s going to be a big cultural change over the next couple of years in Mount Vernon and it might be helpful to stir things up and we can get more community organization,” said Gavin Tomlinson Lue, 23, from the Mount Vernon Youth Bureau and department of public works. “I think it’s going to be something that we could look forward to honestly in terms of unity and for fighting issues in the future,” he said.
As the moderator of the event, Precious Ferrell, 24, is excited to continue hosting more youth talk events for the city and advocating for change. She previously worked at the Mount Vernon Youth Bureau and now works at Westchester Jewish Community Services.
“I’m grateful to be in the position I’m in, to say I can give back to my community and start to make a difference because every little bit helps,” Ferrell said. “If I’m able to say ‘Okay, I did this event for the kids,’ that’s just one way I can help them out, and maybe see something in a different light than what they’re used to.”