Sixty one years and counting.
This past Wednesday, close to 1,000 of Clark County’s best and brightest high school students met at the Las Vegas Convention Center for the 61st Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum. Having been to almost every one of the gatherings since 1956 (that one I was a very young visitor) I can confirm the fact that this one was one of the best.
Each year I hear the same thing from the adult moderators. “I have renewed hope in the future. “ “ It is so encouraging to listen to these young people who have their heads on straight and their gaze far into a future that they know will be theirs.” And “I am hopeful about tomorrow because I have met the leaders of that time today.”
Pick the platitude and it fits. These kids are the product of the Clark County School District and for all the negative stories that diminish the district in the eyes of the community, these young students — all of whom are planning to go to college — present an image far different. These students think, they feel and they understand that their futures are inextricably bound to the quality of their lessons learned and the quantity of their capacity to learn so much more.
The Youth Forum was created over six decades ago by my father, Hank Greenspun, and his assistant, Ruthe Deskin, because they believed that there was a time when the adults in the community needed to step back and listen to their kids. And the best way to allow that to happen was to create a place that was safe enough for the young people to gather together to exchange often diametrically opposed views in a way that taught them respect for the opinion of others and the benefit of finding consensus —often through compromise with those with whom they disagree.
The next thing to be done was to make sure the adult leadership in our community listened.
Over the years, I could have told you that gay marriage would happen; that marijuana would be legalized; that the pro-choice position on abortion would become the law and would have majority acceptance; and that racist ideologies would be shunted to the edges of civil discourse.
Not because I am clairvoyant but because I have had the privilege of having a front row seat at the Youth Forum where I could listen to the students debate the issues, form a consensus and add their drive and determination to making sure their ideas about how we should live in America take hold.
This year was no different except that the level of discourse and the quality of the thought processes employed by the Forum participants was better than ever. We can knock the quality of public education in Clark County — which is found wanting on so many levels — but there is no denying the fact that these high school juniors and seniors could hold their own in any city in this country. That is a tribute to their teachers, their parents — in some cases they have achieved so much without a semblance of a stable home life — and their counselors who push these kids to reach beyond themselves and the modest horizons that restrict their young lives.
If I sound a bit effusive I apologize because I am trying to sound like so much more. I am also trying to encourage not only the parents in our community but also our elected leaders and other community power brokers to pay attention to what these young adults have to say.
The Youth Forum makes it easy for that to happen, too. We will publish columns by the students in this space, put them on television and on radio in the coming weeks and write about their experience at the Youth Forum on our website — lasvegassun.com/youthforum.
The only excuse the adults in our community will have for not knowing what these kids are thinking is laziness or ambivalence. Your loss.
Since the Youth Forum is in its 61st year, I have been thinking about how to continue our long-term partnership with the Clark County School District. After all, I may not be here for another 61 years!
That is why I am thrilled to have a third partner in this endeavor. My friends at Barrick Gold Corp. and the President of Barrick US, Michael Brown, have not been found wanting when it comes to investing time, money and other resources into this state and, specifically, the Southern Nevada community. Their long-term commitment to our youth and to education makes them a perfect partner along with CCSD to help ensure that this program will continue well into the future.
So, speaking of the future. Can I make a prediction based on what I heard this week in my group, “Home Means Nevada? ”
We spent a good deal of time talking about the tragedy of Oct. 1. As is the case across the valley, there was barely one degree of separation from that horrific shooting and the students in that room. In fact, two students had family members who were either shot or were with someone who was shot.
There were emotional exchanges from students on all sides of the gun safety issue. There were avid hunters, well-trained on all manner of guns and strong supporters of “Second Amendment rights” and there were those who probably wouldn’t know or want to know which end of the gun to hold who were also supporters of the Second Amendment.
And, yes, they reached consensus. And that is that we are basically nuts in this country for allowing these killings to continue year after year without doing something about it. They don’t understand how the voters could decide in Nevada to close the gun show loophole and why our elected leadership refuses to enforce the will of the people. And they are at a loss to understand why their parents’ generation continues to talk but refuses to demand action to stop the mayhem.
So, my prediction. These kids will come of voting age in the next year or so, as will their peers across the nation who feel very much the same way about this issue. They will expect those in office or running for office to stop these murders —or, at least, do the best they can to stop most of them. And that means “do something!”
And, if that doesn’t happen?
These young people are part of the largest single generation in America. And they will vote how they feel because they don’t want to live in a country where guns, or people, or people with guns kill innocent people and their babies.
That’s why I love the Sun Youth Forum!
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.