Detroit’s Youth Ask Mayor For Solutions To City’s Problems

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Shomari Raby, member of Youth Voice, appealed to Mayor David Bing about fixing Detroit's ills.

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The burned-out house next to Shomari Raby’s home is an eyesore, but it’s the drug addicts who linger outside and get high inside that cause her to walk past quickly on her way to and from school.

“You don’t know who is in there,” said Raby, 16. “I’m scared of being raped in that house. The other girls try to hurry up and walk past.”

She and more than two dozen other members of Youth Voice appealed Wednesday to newly elected Mayor Dave Bing not to forget them as he works to find solutions to the struggling city’s myriad ills.

“I think he should tear down the abandoned houses,” Raby said.

Bing, a businessman and former NBA star, campaigned on the need for increased safety in addition to support for Detroit’s youth.

For about an hour, he and members of his administration listened to the students’ concerns about safety, blight and lack of recreation. The group presented the mayor carefully scripted demands that included demolishing vacant buildings near schools in their neighborhoods by July 20.

They also want Bing, a Democrat, to send a letter to Robert Bobb, the school district’s emergency financial manager, urging him to meet with them before next fall.

Some were upset that their schools are among 29 that will close to help cut costs throughout the district.

Bing said he would help set up a meeting with Bobb but stopped short of making further promises.

“I’m not going to promise something that I can’t keep because I lose all my credibility,” he said. “If I promise something, I want to make sure I can follow up and get it done.”

Detroit is facing a deficit Bing’s predecessor pegged at between $250 million and $300 million, a nearly 23 percent unemployment rate and a shrinking tax base as companies go out of business and residents flee.

The city also is operating under the shadow of General Motors Corp.’s bankruptcy filing earlier this week. The automaker employs several thousand workers at its downtown headquarters.

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Things are going to get worse before they get better, Bing told the teens.

“For this city, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country, if we don’t create jobs … our city is going to go down the tubes,” he said. “Now that we’ve been hit with what General Motors is going through, what Ford is going through, what Chrysler is going through, we haven’t seen the unemployment levels that we’re going to see.”

Chrysler LLC has emerged from bankruptcy and Ford Motor Co. is undergoing restructuring.

“These are times we’ve never seen before,” said Carol Goss, president and chief executive of the nonprofitSkillman Foundation. “The safety net that has been available to protect families around food, security, housing, and just in general income so parents can support their children, that’s just not readily available.

“Parents who have just recently been laid off don’t know what lies ahead.”

Skillman works with other organizations and the city to provide Detroit youth with opportunities, including elusive summer jobs.

Many jobs that historically have been filled by high school and college students are being taken by adults left unemployed by the sour economy.

“We know it’s very competitive,” said Jim Rhein, a market analyst for the state. “In times of great economic stress, sometimes youth get forced out of jobs that they normally would have a shot at.”

Edgar Gomez, like many teens, has had no luck in landing work this summer.

He worries that a lack of both jobs and recreational opportunities will be a bad mix for the city’s youth.

“We’re not getting what we need,” the 18-year-old said before the meeting with Bing. “Many kids really don’t have nothing to do. Our parks are never clean, there are few activities. Around these neighborhoods there are so many gangs and violence. If they have nothing to do, of course they are going to get involved.”

Members of Youth Voice are hoping that Bing’s leadership can help change things, 18-year-old Leon Vaughn said.

“I really hope he invests more in youth development and leadership, and not forget about the youth while trying to get GM back on track,” Vaughn said.

Before the meeting ended, Bing scheduled a follow-up with the group later this month.

“We’ll team up and make things happen,” he told them. “I’m going to give you the support so we can make change.”

Jasmine Boatwright, 20, said the group plans to hold Bing to that.

“Everyone has their own focus and everyone has their own way of doing things,” she said. “Right now, there is no other way to think about it than genuine, unless he shows us otherwise.”

If Bing doesn’t follow through, Boatwright said, “we’re coming back.”

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