Strengthening Selma's Future Forum
Eighteen Selma and Dallas County youth gathered on Friday, May 30, for a “Strengthening Selma’s Future” forum. These students hailed from several different area high schools, and many are involved with the Selma Youth Ambassador program.
The forum gave students a chance to talk about what it would take to help them find “the good life” in Dallas County as they explored ways to get involved in their community.
Callie Nelson, director of Dallas County Extension Service, and Lowery McNeal, Auburn University Living Democracy fellow, hosted the event at the Dallas County Family Resource Center. Cristin Foster of The David Mathews Center for Civic Life moderated the forum.
In addition, The Mathews Center’s Robert Turner and Anne Banks Black, several agents from Dallas County Extension, Selma City Councilwoman Angela Benjamin attended.
At the beginning of the session, Nelson encouraged students to speak up, telling them “we want to hear what’s on your mind.” Foster echoed this point, telling the youth, “You are the experts on Dallas County. We want to hear what you think.” This set the tone for open and vibrant discussion between the students.
To start the session, the group talked about the importance of “perspective” when attempting to understand the issues that face cities and citizens. All of the students agreed that it was valuable to spend time with students from different schools and areas of Dallas County. They said varied interactions help them get a well-rounded view of their communities and themselves.
Foster then led the participants in a discussion of Selma’s assets and needed improvements. Students saw the area’s history as an important asset, along with gathering places like the YMCA, Public Library, churches and city parks. Examples of possible city improvements ranged from lowering crime and attracting more jobs to getting more restaurants and entertainment options.
Students also shared stories of how their schools and educational options help but also frustrate them. They agreed that more committed involvement from parents and teachers would help their schools. They also expressed a need for opportunities in and out of school to “find what they’re good at” and learn about and pursue their passions.
Several students also talked about interest in mentoring and shadowing programs. One student said, “We want mentors to show us the road to success.” In order to be active leaders and citizens, they said they need preparation, communication and involvement opportunities.
The students agreed that having trustworthy people show them “how to do the right thing,” and “be a better person” would be good leadership training.
Further session discussion revolved around three approaches to community betterment: investing in community, equipping the next generation, and promoting healthy living. The students brainstormed about ways to accomplish these goals.
To end the forum, students were split into small groups and asked to come up with an idea or project that would benefit the youth of Dallas County. They then presented the “who, what, where, when, why” of their ideas.
All of the groups came up with some variation of a community center with programming for young people. This followed previous discussion about the students’ desire for more shared space in their community and places to meet new people. They all agreed that open spaces could foster unity and collaboration in their towns and give them more chances to talk and listen to other young people.
Nelson, Benjamin, and McNeal all agreed that the students presented good ideas throughout the forum, many of which can lead to practical projects. They said they hope the forum will be a starting point for youth involvement this summer.