Mayoral candidate Malik Evans is proposing several policies that would, if enacted, address the need for youth development and peer mediation programs, as well as bolster support for the Teen Court program.
The proposals, named the Youth Opportunity Agenda, were the first that Evans has unveiled as part of his primary campaign against Mayor Lovely Warren. He announced them Thursday at a news conference at the Douglass Auditorium on King Street.
Evans called his plan a “compact with the community,” and he emphasized the importance of creating programs that help connect students with employment opportunities. He believes if students are kept busy, they will not have time to become involved in drugs or violence.
“My first job was when I was 14 years old, and I was so busy working I didn’t have time to get into trouble,” Evans said. “It’s so important that we find meaningful opportunities for our young people, and that starts with employment.”
Evans said that if he’s elected, within his first 100 days in office he’ll have a set plan in place for expanding youth development programs. One initiative he’d like to launch is a “Youth2Work” program, which he said could create upwards of 10,000 jobs for city youth.
To emphasize the need for opportunities for youth, Evans pointed to a collection of harsh statistics from Monroe County’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey for the Rochester City School District. As part of the survey, 5 percent of students reported carrying a gun in the past year, 12 percent acknowledged carrying a weapon of any kind, and 10 percent did not go to school at least once in the past month because they felt unsafe.
A startling 33 percent of students reported that they felt so hopeless in the past year they stopped doing their normal activities for at least two weeks.
“It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men,” Evans said, quoting Frederick Douglass. “We need to be able to make sure that we are building strong children with a comprehensive youth development strategy.”
Another key component of Evans’ youth development initiative is expanding support for Teen Court, a program led by the Center for Youth which takes a “restorative justice” approach to non-violent youth offenders. Determinations in Teen Court are sealed, and sentences for the youth are typically skill-building workshops or community service.
Evans said he was one of the first teens to participate in the program. If elected, he said he’d like to increase support funding for Teen Court "tenfold." The city provided $99,411 to the Center for Youth in 2020, according to the organization’s annual report. However, that funding went to homeless services provided by the center. Teen Court hasn't received city funding in about 15 years,
“Teen Court allows these young people to be involved in the criminal justice system for the first time, and hopefully the last time,” Evans said. “And then they are being connected to something, they are being connected to community service, they are being connected to a job, they are being connected to console.”
In total, Evans estimated his plan would require at least $5 million in spending on youth development initiatives. The funding, he said, would be pulled from all areas of the city government, including the Rochester Police Department.
It’s not that city teens don’t want to find jobs, but rather the issue is an absence of resources and opportunities. Ahmein Parson, an 18-year-old senior at University Prep Charter School, is looking for a job now.
“I know most people want jobs, and most people want to make money,” Parson said. “It’s best that they’re helped to do it the right way.”
Evans is a current member of the Rochester City Council and former president of the Rochester school board. If he loses the June 22 Democratic primary against Warren, he plans to run against her in November on the Working Families Party line. The party has endorsed him.
Evans is Warren’s only challenger in the mayoral race.
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or [email protected].