01/18/2012 11:30 am ET Updated Jan 18, 2012

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray Swears In New Youth Leaders

WASHINGTON -- Back in October, when an early Saturday snowstorm took many in the nation's capital by surprise, some in District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray's administration wanted to cancel a scheduled youth town hall meeting in Ward 5.

But the mayor, who hosted monthly meetings for D.C. youths to talk about issues they faced when he was D.C. Council chairman, said that they couldn't cancel the planned meeting.

"Even if just five [kids] show up, we need to be there," he said Tuesday night, retelling the story as part of the official swearing-in ceremony of the D.C. Youth Advisory Council and the Mayor's Youth Leadership Institute at the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives.

Somewhere between 75 to 100 youths showed up to listen and talk on that snowy day.

Listening to young people is something often forgotten by city leaders everywhere. And adults, Gray said, can often sound patronizing to kids when talking about weighty policy issues. "One of the things they can hear from us is that we will listen," the mayor said.

Adults can also learn a thing or two about leadership from kids.

Both the mayor and Lisa Mallory, the director of D.C. Employment Services, pointed to the example set by the city's current co-youth mayors, Cecilia Thompson and Ryan Washington, who decided to split the responsibilities of their Mayor's Youth Leadership Institute posts when their election resulted in a tie.

They could have battled it out, but the two decided to be, well, adult about it.

"We [adults] seemed to have lost our way," Mallory said, noting the lack of civility in today's modern politics.

For the city's co-youth mayors, who spoke at the swearing in ceremony, their MYLI experiences have been transformative. "That 14-year-old girl from Ward 7 is a very different person standing here today," said Thompson, noting how the city's program has trained her in public speaking and has given her more confidence to discuss important issues facing children in the city.

She later cited a quotation from Martin Luther King Jr., something she saw on Monday when marching in the city's parade honoring the slain civil rights leader. "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle."

While MYLI has been around for 33 years and has educated thousands of D.C. kids, DCYAC is a decade old. Both organizations help serve as a bridge between D.C.'s youth population and city leaders, especially on legislation that will impact the lives of young people in the nation's capital.

"You are a wonderful voice for your peers," Mallory said.

For instance, DYAC Director Cedric Jennings noted how member Camilo Rivera recently drafted a letter for the organization that was sent to D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D). She asked for youth input on proposed legislation that would mandate all D.C. public school students to apply to college as a condition of graduation.

The organization helps monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the city's programs and policies geared toward kids, including the city's longstanding Youth Summer Employment Program.

It gives kids a stake in the success of these programs -- and their city.

Norman Nixon, an MYLI adviser, noted that the youth members must attend their local advisory neighborhood commission meetings, which gets them more engaged in their local communities.

Gray, in his closing remarks, noted that the city's ongoing struggle over the lack of equal representation in the halls of Congress is something that needs more youth voices.

"You will be the leaders of the future," the mayor told the approximately 25 young people being honored Tuesday.

"Think what you can do to move the ball down the court. We need young voices in this fight," the mayor said. "If you stand up for yourself, others will stand with you."



D.C. Youth Advisory Council Promo Video From 2008