DC high schoolers debut their first virtual town hall with local leaders

Students participating in the D.C. Teen Town Hall. Left to right: Kevon Gates, Heidi Fuentes and Michelle Tillery. (Courtesy D.C. Teen Town Hall)

A group of D.C. teens will debut their first virtual public forum on Saturday as they look to change their communities through thoughtful conversations.

The discussion, titled “Race in America: Teen Speak Virtual Town Hall,” will cover everything from racism to immigration and gun violence.

The teens led the town hall as part of the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program. During the six-week program, they wrote and produced segments with local leaders and community members.

“It was like a family because everybody [was] engaged,” said Kevon Gates, a sophomore at Kipp College Preparatory. “If we all stick together we can abolish racism and any other differences that keep us apart.”

Students spoke with D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee about violence in the community and the its impact. He applauded their determination to ask questions and hold leaders accountable.

“You guys are young leaders in our community. The best way to have an impact is to be involved,” Contee said. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and former D.C. First Lady Cora Masters Barry also participated in the discussion.

Heidi Fuentes, a sophomore student, was the event’s co-host and said she believes she represents a group of people who are not always heard.

“I would like to see a big change with racism against Hispanics and all other cultures. I would like the people to be treated equally,” Fuentes said.

The program was more robust than Michelle Tillery expected. The sophomore at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, said it reminded her that she belongs to a generation that is ready to change communities across the country.

“We’re the generation of activists, the people who actually do stuff,” she said.

The town hall will air at 7 p.m. on the District Knowledge Network, and again on Sunday at 2 p.m.

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Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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