How do we empower parents, strengthen families, and nurture healthy youth in Trenton? This was one of the core questions young leaders thought deeply about at a gathering designed to foster solutions to problems facing Trenton.

The meeting took place last Thursday, Feb.5, at Thomasena’s Takeout, a popular restaurant located on E. Front St. in downtown Trenton. Caitlin Fair and Antonio Bellamy, who are both artists and former youth workers in Trenton, organized the meeting. Fair and Bellamy used Facebook to spread information about the meetingRev.Toby Sanders, pastor of Beloved Community Church and former school board president, said this space is to galvanize Trenton’s young “bright leaders” to one place in order to have a dialogue about their contributions to the city and to find solutions to the problems of their generation.

Fair, who moderated the conversation along with Bellamy, asked participants about their concerns for the city. It didn’t take long for the group, diverse in both age and profession,  to reach a conclusion that education is their number one priority. Their concern for the state of education in Trenton is understandable.

Weeks ago, Jenna Pizzi (The Times of Trenton) reported  that the district is19 million dollars under budget.  As a result Monument Elementary school was shut down early last week and, according to Pizzi, they plan toterminate 350 positions.

The cutting of jobs, though very significant, wasn’t the group’s direct particular concern. Their concerns were centered on the students’ health. Jerell Blakeley, a social studies teacher at Trenton High and Trenton Civic Trustee, said that he is concerned about the psychological and physical well being of the youth. He said some of the children at Trenton high have been psychologically and sexually abused and he believes that this kind of suffering has a profound affect on children and teenagers’ learning. He also said that he would like to see more parents involved in their children’s education.

Other participants agreed–but said that parents are facing problems that may cause them not to be as involved in their children’s education. Some participants said that parents’ don’t know how to be advocates for their children and they need to be educated and encouraged on how to do so.  Blakeley also said that he believes there are youth and parents who just don’t care.  “How do you reach those people?” he asked.   

As the conversation went on the group listed other related problems:

  • The high illiteracy rate amongst parents and children.
  • No safe space for youth to share their struggles.
  • A lack of Black males in the school system and in families.  
  • The high cost of some after school programs.
  • Not enough teachers at Trenton High School.

After acknowledging some of the hardships within the city–Bellamy and Fair challenged the participants to think about solutions. She asked participants what are some ways to provide youth in Trenton with safe spaces? A few in the group suggested the youth need more after school programs. Most of the After School Programs in Trenton have been eliminated. Several participants believed that more free after school programs could provide children with the space to learn and share their suffering with people they trust.

Others suggested using social media as a way to engage the youth in Trenton. They believe that social media could be a space for people to speak to youth anonymously. Some believe that this would give the youth the freedom to share their feelings without feeling ashamed of themselves.

Time did not permit the group to provide a comprehensive list of solutions. Sanders ended the meeting with obtaining contact information from each attendee so that they may continue the conversation at another time.

Sanders said to the participants that he would like for this be an ongoing conversation amongst young people and civic leaders. He praised Fair and Bellamy for their leadership and for moderating the discussion. He also said that participants who attended the think tank would receive a survey. According to Sanders–the meetings being held throughout the city with young leaders are a part of Trenton Young Leaders, an initiative sponsored by the Kettering Foundation. Sanders also said that there will be another meeting soon, but he didn’t offer a concrete date or location for it.