By Brandon Kennedy
Teens from Pittsburgh are coming together to have their voices heard, and even the mayor is listening. A coalition of ten young people from Pittsburgh area schools aims to work with local authorities on improving community relations. Since their formation last year, the Pittsburgh Student Activist Coalition has already met with Mayor Peduto and has plans to meet with Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay.
The grand jury ruling of the St Louis County Court that decided not to indict Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson last year is a major concern for the teens, who spoke about their reactions. Welles Taylor, a junior at Winchester Thurston in Squirrel Hill, said that the decision is something he has come to expect from the justice system. “I was obviously saddened by the decision, but I wasn’t surprised,” said Taylor.
Joan Mukogosi, member of the coalition and student at Winchester Thurston, was frightened by the riots that followed the Ferguson decision. “It was scary, but you have to look at the entire situation and understand the emotion behind those actions,” she said.
Mukogosi also said that she feels people don’t listen to teens’ opinions. “Some people don’t think we care about these issues, but we do.” She said. “We’re going to be voting in a couple of years. We definitely care about these things.”
On Dec 5 last year, students hosted a rally in Schenley Plaza to protest the Ferguson decision. The students say they want to have their voices heard. “There aren’t a lot of people asking students how we feel, and we notice that,” Mukogosi said. “As a black teenager there are issues that I have with police that white teenagers don’t…. I don’t always feel safe around police, especially in light of the Ferguson case. There’s just this apprehension; sometimes you ask yourself ‘are all police officers there to help you?'”
In two meetings with Mayor Peduto last year the group discussed issues like student employment, immigration, and school budget cuts. According to Mukogosi, the coalition is pleased with the work they have done with the mayor so far. “We really feel like he listened to our ideas and wanted to use them,” she said.
Among other initiatives, the group discussed modifying the mayor’s “coffee with cops,” program to be more accessible to teenagers. Their suggestion? “We knew that kids wouldn’t want to have coffee with cops…Maybe instead of coffee, a pizza party?”