NORFOLK, VA –
The questions weren’t the kind that candidates for political office in Norfolk usually are asked at forums, but then again, the people asking them weren’t exactly typical, either.
The questioners were teens from Norfolk public schools. And they wanted to hear the candidates’ viewpoints on topics that affect teens: How did they feel about expulsions and in-school suspensions? What makes them qualified to represent inner-city youths? What would they do to try to reduce the number of guns in the hands of young people?
The forum was held Saturday at New Calvary Baptist Church in Norfolk. It was sponsored by Promoting Healthy and Active Teens, a community organization formed in Norfolk about 12 years ago, said Ron Hollomon, a member of the group and coordinator of Saturday’s event.
This was the second youth forum the group hosted, Hollomon said. The first, held last year, focused on tension between police and youths that had been sparked by several police-involved shootings, both nationally and locally, he said.
“With so many local offices up for election this year, we decided to do a voter education forum,” Hollomon said.
All 13 candidates for mayor, City Council and School Board were invited, but only eight attended, he said. One candidate’s campaign manager came in place of the candidate.
Noelle Gabriel, a pediatrician and candidate for School Board, was impressed with the students and their questions.
“What makes me feel great is that they are taking the initiative and getting involved,” Gabriel said. This election marks the first that Norfolk will be able to elect members to the School Board, and Gabriel strongly encouraged the students old enough to vote to participate.
Deionjalie Miller, a senior at Granby High School’s international baccalaureate program, helped plan and moderate the event. She said she arrived not sure whom to vote for in the May 3 election but was leaving with no doubt in her mind.
Friends Asia Cuffee, also a senior in Granby High School’s IB program, and Trinity Fennell, a senior at Maury High School, were not so sure. Both said they would need to do some additional research before deciding which candidates they would support.
“They certainly were long-winded,” Fennell said of the candidates participating.
Added Cuffee: “Some of them could use some help with their public speaking.”
Unfortunately for Fennell and Cuffee, the speaker they liked best is the only one not on the ballot: Jessie Williams, the 26-year-old campaign manager for City Council candidate Andria McClellan. McClellan was flying home from Arizona with two of her sons Saturday, so Williams came in her place.
“She answered the questions and stayed on topic better than any of them,” Cuffee said. “It’s too bad she’s not running.”
Jane Harper, 757-222-5097, firstname.lastname@example.org