When she received word that 14-year-old Davonte Lightfoot had been shot and killed on N Killingsworth, Imani Muhammad—who taught the teen in middle school last year—knew "something had to be done." She was getting calls from other former students, "saying that a lot of the youth who are upset about his death are retaliating, carrying guns." No one has been arrested in the teen's January 7 murder.
So Muhammad quickly organized Youth Summit 2007, held last Saturday afternoon, February 3, at the Portland Center for Self Improvement, a space just one block from where Lightfoot was shot. Her idea? To ask youth for their input about issues that have plenty of Portland adults wringing their hands—issues like large teen gatherings at Lloyd Center, "flash mobs" of teens around the city, and youth violence. She also got Professor Griff of the hiphop group Public Enemy—he was in town for a lecture in Salem—to give the keynote address.
"You need to understand what's going on in young people's minds," Griff said, opening the afternoon summit. "They need an outlet. If they don't have one, the streets will be an outlet."
Six African American youth—from Benson, Franklin, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and St. Mary's Academy—tried to help the crowd of neighbors, service providers, and other teens to understand what was going on in their minds.
"I want to express how I'm being treated as a youth in Portland," Benson Polytechnic High School senior Quiana McWilliams said. She and her peers outlined frustration with their school curriculum ("They maybe teach us two weeks of the year about black history. Black history is everyday history," explained Andre Pierce, a student body president at Roosevelt High School), with adults "misjudging" teens, and about negative stereotypes perpetuated by some hiphop artists. ("They're not telling us we need to be educated," McWilliams said. In hiphop videos, "a lot of the dudes seem illiterate.")
They also called for more basic activities for Portland's teenagers—alternatives to congregating on the streets. "We need more after-school programs," Pierce said. McWilliams suggested "a transportation program" to help teens get to places like a suburban skating rink. Michael Caples, also a senior at Benson, called for "more stuff built for us" in Portland, citing Lloyd Center and "a skatepark out in Gresham, and we aren't going to go out there" as the few places for teens to hang out. They'd like to see "basketball games and flag football," places to play videogames, studios to record music, spots to get homework help, jobs to earn pocket money, and community events like block parties—but they aren't sure how to make those things happen, beyond telling adults what they want. And "just because the person writes stuff down, doesn't mean there's going to be action," added a young woman from St. Mary's Academy.