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Benton Harbor: Youth Leadership Story
When teens at the boys and Girls Club in Benton Harbor, MI wanted to improve education in their town, they knew they had to get their issues on the agenda. Undeterred by the fact that they were too young to vote, these young people came up with creative ways to get their message out. They sponsored—and moderated-- a mayoral debate.
Benton Harbor is a struggling community of 11,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan. Seventy percent of children live in poverty. Only six in ten receive their high school diplomas. It is so hard to get out of the same situation if we don’t get a change in our educational system,” says Boys and Girls Club member, Samantha.
Teens for the Boys and Girls Club planned “The Big Bash,” an all-day basketball tournament, Benton Harbor Idol competition and mayoral debate. As moderators of the debate, teens could pose questions like, “How can the youth and adults come together to make the community a better place.” When they weren’t satisfied the with candidates’ responses, they pushed on, with incisive follow-up questions.
“These young people understand that if anything is going to be changed in this community, they are going to be the agents of change,” says Liji Haney, director of the teen program at the Boys and Girls Club.
The Boys and Girls Club received training and technical assistance from the Innovation Center as part of the Kellogg Leadership for Community Change project (KLCC). The Innovation Center guided and advised five sites that were part of this national initiative to bring together youth and adults as leaders for community change.
”Benton Harbor is a diamond in the rough. There is so much potential in this city, and before I die I will have chipped away at that rough. And I will be here until I see that diamond shining,” says Samantha.
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