JACKSON, Mich — Jackson teenagers are getting a voice in city government. The newly formed Jackson Youth Council will give them a place to express their ideas and opinions and help city officials create a better quality of life for young people and families in the community.
“I think the youth voice is important to drive any cause whether it be something small or something big because I think at the end of the day it will be the youth that will guide us into a better future." said 16-year-old Jackson High School sophomore Brian Huynh, a member of the council.
The Youth Council came together after city officials saw the success similar groups were having in other cities across the country.
Right now, there are nine members, but the city plans to fill six additional spots. The goal is to have two students from each Jackson ward, with three additional members hand picked by Mayor Derek Dobies. The students need to attend a high school, live within the city limits and want to bring change to local government.
“The goal of this council is to present to our City Council and to our city what the youth are feeling," said Jackson chief equity officer John Willis. "What is impacting the lives of our youth? What would they like to see? What things are we doing, what changes are we making, that impact them differently that maybe as adults we haven’t thought of? What are the departments doing that may impact youth?”
Youth Council member Olivia Northrup, a Jackson High School junior, hopes she and her colleagues can make an impact.
“Probably the biggest issue that everyone is facing right now going to school with COVID," Northrup said. "It’s been really hard for me so I can’t imagine what everyone else is going through. Just for me personally, the online learning, it was good for a while, but now it’s getting difficult. So, I'm hoping we can help students, especially younger ones, with that.”
Other early ideas include a bullying ordinance and programs for youth employment.
“I see a lot of kids that when outside of school, they have nothing to go home to," Huynh said. "Because when they’re in school they have things to do. They’re with their friends. They have work, they have lunch, they have a bunch of time to enjoy themselves and have fun with their friends but outside of school they have nothing to really go home to. They have no one to rely on...or it’s just not really good at home, so I want to find a solution to fix that.”
Students representing a ward are on two-year staggered terms, while the ones appointed by Dobies are on one-year terms.
According to Willis, they hit the ground running.
"They're marking their territory so they're looking to come in and get things done," said Willis. "They don't want to just be a celebratory committee, they're looking to get things done.
"It's not something that a lot of people get to do," said Northrup. "I joined because I thought it was a cool opportunity and I didn't really want to miss out on it. I think what they're trying to do is really cool by trying to get younger people involved."
The youth council plans to meet on the first Wednesday of every month. Interested high school students can apply online.
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