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Alexandria teens make suggestions for city to help on youth safety issues

Police at the Bradlee Shopping Center where 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez was fatally stabbed on May 24, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Seven months after Luis Mejia Hernandez was fatally stabbed in a brawl at the Bradlee Shopping Center McDonald’s, the city has made some progress on putting together a series of teen-led recommendations for preventing future violence.

Some of the initial suggestions coming out of those focus group meetings, though, are a little generalized. They include things like encouraging the city to listen to youth voices more and build better partnerships.

The city surveyed 125 local teens and children to put together a “Youth Safety and Resiliency concept” — a plan to help offer better services to local teens to help build positive relationships and understand more about the mental health of students in Alexandria City Public Schools.

In an initial update, the focus groups came back with suggestions that mainly involve better lines of communication and opportunities for local teens.

Mayor Justin Wilson, who chairs the committee along with Council member Alyia Gaskins, said in a newsletter released this morning:

What we learned in the focus groups should not surprise us. Students told us that policymakers should:

  • Offer creative, inclusive, flexible youth programs that foster social connection and a sense of belonging and promote youth behavioral health
  • Use a variety of methods and partnerships to creatively encourage young people and ensure that they are aware of the resources and programs available to them
  • Build effective Youth-Adult Partnerships by providing adults with ongoing trainings and technical assistance to promote positive youth development, and by providing youth with a strong foundation and opportunities to participate in decision and policy making with adults
  • When asking youth for their input and feedback, it is critical that adults listen, take their ideas seriously, and hold themselves accountable to respond to their concerns.

One of the ideas was for the city to hold a “Youth Summit” to address topics like mental health, the education system, and social change.

“Our youth have shouldered the worst of the challenges we have collectively faced over the past 3 years,” Wilson wrote in the newsletter. “Ensuring that every young person in our City is equipped to thrive during these challenging times remains a top priority in our community.”