In May, the Mayor’s Office of Youth Services – a special division of the City of Memphis that creates programs to serve the educational and developmental needs of students in the Memphis area – held a press conference at city hall introducing its newest initiative, the Memphis Youth City Council (MYCC).
Comprised of 13 students elected from schools in each district, the MYCC is a program that has actually been on the books as a city ordinance since 2007, but it wasn’t until Special Assistant to the Mayor and Director of the Office of Youth Services, Ike Griffith, took charge of the project that things really got rolling.
“It had never actually been implemented until I got involved with it,” says Griffith. “Nobody really picked it up. We had to do some tweaking from the original plan to make it work, but the idea was there."
Memphis Youth City Council poss with Mayor Strickland in the Hall of Mayors in the lobby of City Hall
The program kicked off in earnest back in February, when a lottery was held to determine the 13 high schools, which will rotate from year-to-year so that every school eventually gets a chance to participate, that would be allowed to be the first to provide representatives to the council. Those lucky 13 schools were Craigmont, Ridgeway, Whitehaven, Wooddale, Memphis Catholic, Mitchell, Memphis Academy of Health Sciences, Douglass, Hollis F. Price Middle College, Westwood, St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Memphis University School, and Memphis East. Elections were then held at each location, and the inaugural Memphis Youth City Council was off and running.
“Young people have got to become acclimated to how government works,” says Griffith. “So our goal is to provide as realistic an experience as possible for these kids. We want to show them how to dress and act appropriately for a government setting, how to communicate with the media and public, and how to work within the system. I want this group to know that the role they are playing is an important one – we’re not just playing ‘pretend city council’ for fun. This is a serious thing.”
This summer, the 13 council members will meet with Griffith and other city officials to create a meeting schedule and also learn the ins-and-outs of parliamentary procedure before their terms officially start in August.
“We’re going to teach them Robert’s Rules of Order,” says Griffith. “We’re going to have a swearing-in ceremony in council chambers. It’s going to be just like the ‘real’ city council.”
From there, the plan is for the MYCC to convene once or twice a month for the duration of the school year. In those sessions the council would debate local issues and draw up proposals that will be shared with a host of Memphis lawmakers and civic leaders that will be serving as mentors to the council, including Mayor Jim Strickland, former local newsmaker-turned mayoral advisor Ursula Madden, and, of course, members of the “real” Memphis City Council – among many others.
“Our mantra is ‘empowering our youth for positive results,’ and we are dedicated to that,” says Griffith. “We will work hard to engage the kids and set a standard for future youth councils to come.”
Additionally, Griffith hopes that more Memphians will see the value of the MYCC moving forward.
“We also hope that citizens will start to see hope for the youth of Memphis,” he says. “And if they can’t see the ‘hope’ all the way yet, hopefully they can at least see the ‘H.’ We have to start somewhere.”
For more information on the Memphis Youth City Council, visit www.cityofmemphisyouth.org.