Almost 100 East Multnomah County high school students convened Wednesday afternoon, March 20, to discuss topics that even most adults find difficult to tackle.
The teenagers explored the issues of mental health and sexual harassment in schools during the second-annual Gresham Youth Summit. Organized and led by the city of Gresham's Youth Advisory Council, the "Step Up, Speak Up" event at Gresham City Hall was a chance to brainstorm how to make the community a better place for youth.
"It's great to see so many youth in the room together. This is a time for you all to stand up and lead," said Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis. "The ability for you to articulate what you are going through will do wonders for your life."
The day was filled with talks from the mayor and city councilors, presentations from members of the Youth Advisory Council, small table discussions and ice breakers.
One initiative the students came up with is #TealTuesdays, in acknowledgement of April being sexual assault awareness month. Every Tuesday during the month, students will wear an accessory or item of clothing in the color teal to show their peers that it is OK to speak up when something bad happens and seek help. During the summit, those in attendance wore teal ribbons.
"Our goal this year is to get the conversation started in our communities," said Kendyl Beam, a senior at Gresham High School and secretary for the Youth Advisory Council.
Some other ideas the youths came up with included forming after-school groups; spaces where students can talk with one another; normalizing conversations about mental health issues and sexual abuse; avoiding jokes about sexuality and sex abuse; and being confident and standing up for others.
"You guys give me a lot of hope," said Gresham-Barlow School District Superintendent Katrise Perera.
In 2018, Bemis brought together the first Gresham Youth Summit to discuss school safety, technology and bullying. He is the chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Youth Involvement Task Force.
The Youth Advisory Council (YAC) is a group of high school students from across Gresham that meet bi-monthly to learn about and advise city operations, participate in service projects and work to bridge the gap between local youth and city officials.
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