Kzoo meetings aim to help kids cope with tragedy

kalamazoo, youth town hall
A youth town hall meeting at the Douglass Community Association in Kalamazoo on Sept. 18, 2017.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The recent Kalamazoo car crash that killed five teenagers has motivated a few people to host what they’re calling “youth town hall” meetings.

Organizers say the purpose of the meetings is to give youth an opportunity to say what it is they need from adults, especially after tragedies.

“I actually started thinking about doing a town hall just to get the youth voice out,” said Takisha Johnson, who helped organize the meetings. “And then tragedy struck, and I was like, ‘Do it now, because if you don’t do it now, you’d be surprised, the momentum may dwindle.'”

That tragedy killed five Kalamazoo teenagers earlier this month. Police say a car went off the road after going more than 100 mph.

Now, Johnson says she’s determined help the young people of Kalamazoo grieve what happened. She also wants to provide a setting where youth can say what they need from adults.

“We want to be on the forefront,” Johnson explained. “Get what they need, create programming that surrounds and provides them what they need and then continue to heal as a community versus making it like a Band Aid that just rips off the same tragic wound all of the time.”

The first meeting was held Monday at the Douglass Community Association. Adults sat on one side of the room, while about 15 young people sat in their own group. In the end, the youth presented to the adults what they believe they needed, not just what the adults think they needed.

Some of the ideas included creating more fun things to do, developing learning programs and allowing young people to meet professionals.

“I thought it was awesome,” said Mollie Peterson, who brought her two grandchildren. “Because they need to have a voice. They need to start learning how to advocate for their own needs.”

Her grandson, Jamez Dye, says he took away several lessons from Monday’s meeting. Among them:

“Basically, not being afraid to speak up,” he said.

Monday was the first of three public youth town hall meetings. There’s also a meeting Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the Edison Neighborhood Association on Washington Avenue. The third and final meeting is Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Eastside Neighborhood Association on E. Main Street.