Jairus Cater, a senior at Martin Luther King Academic Magnet School, calls it a “generational gap.”
“Kids feel that older people cannot relate with them,” Cater said. “If we can get an intergenerational crowd together, and have the youth listen to the adults and the adults listen to youth, I feel like we can make an effective change in our city.”
Improving that line of communication is at the heart of a new 40-member task force unveiled Monday by Mayor Karl Dean. The group, composed of Metro officials, nonprofit organizers, business leaders and students, plans to work collectively in the months ahead to develop a Youth Master Plan for Nashville.
“The idea is to create a master plan for how we can better serve the kids of Davidson County in all facets of their lives, whether it’s in school or out of school” Dean said. “It’s just a recognition of the fact that our children, the youth in this county, are the most important assets we have.”
Issues to be tackled by the task force include all those that affect students’ success in school: health, home stability and out-of-school activities, for example. Chaired by Cater, At-large Metro Councilman Ronnie Steine and Renata Soto, executive director of Conexion Americas, the task force hopes to devise a final Youth Master Plan, complete with a wide range of recommendations, by July 28.
“Some of these things are some very big issues,” Dean said. “Whether we can do all of them immediately or some of them in the short-term, I don’t know yet. We’ll just have to see.”
For Dean, who was elected chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization last week, one of the task force’s most important assignments should be to explore youth transportation issues.
“Transportation is just vital to get children and youth to school, to nonprofits or after-school activities, and to get them to jobs and cultural events,” Dean said. “Transportation is an issue I’m very interested in for the city as a whole, and for our youth in particular because they’re probably least able to afford private transportation.”
Cater, the leading student representative of the task force, is prepared to help carry out a massive student survey to solicit the thoughts of both public and private school children.
An overall lack of support for Nashville’s youth tops his concerns.
“Without support, you’re lacking some resources that you need to succeed,” Cater said. “If those resources aren’t available to the youth, then there’s a big problem.”
Steine, who plans on holding a several community and town hall meetings to enlist others in the cause, said the hope is to present Dean with a document that can be a “blueprint” for both Metro government and the rest of the city.
“We’re going to put together a process that is so inclusive and reaches out to so many people that we will hear that voice rise to the top,” Steine said. “The process of participation is as important as the final document. I don’t want to pre-judge what our conclusions are going to be because we have an awful lot of folks that sincerely need to be at the table.”
Though Dean’s latest task force has a broader mission, its creation is strikingly similar to the mayor’s Project for Student Success, a 40-member group organized two years ago to develop steps to reduce the dropout rate at Metro schools.