4-H community conversation fosters dialogue among youth

Kris Long, Opinions Editor

“All adults do is blame, complain and argue.”

Those are the words of youth development specialist Aliah Mestrovich Seay, one of the adult leaders in charge of organizing the 4-H community conversations event at K-State on Saturday.

The deliberative forum centered around a discussion of gun regulations and the prevention of mass shootings by people of all ages, predominantly those of college age or younger. It was organized by both adults and youth in conjunction with 4-H and The K-State Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy. 

“I think that deliberative forums are a critical part of us exercising our freedom of speech and living in a democratic society,” Mestrovich Seay said. “Ironically, many of us have never even participated in one… [They’re important because] in this situation, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, when we get together and commit to being civil, and compassionate and speak with…  kindness to each other… I believe we can move forward.”

Gun violence was chosen as a topic by a group of 4-H youth from Dickinson County during a “conversation boot camp” held this summer. They had the opportunity to choose between multiple forums about national issue, with the final vote being on either gun violence or the opioid crisis. 

“[I think youth chose the subject of gun violence because] most experiences in school do not allow them to actually talk about it,” Mestrovich Seay said. “Adults are so uncomfortable with this subject, and we cannot seem to agree or be civil to each other… we’re sending this message to youth that… we don’t want you to talk about it either”

The event started with opening statements, then participants from all over the northeast of Kansas broke into groups based on age to discuss the topic. Adults populated some groups, but teenagers were the largest age-group present. Even children not yet in their teens attended. 

“I’m happy [with the level of diversity], there was… a lot of people from different ages and different places around… Kansas,” junior Jacklyn Hernandez, a group facilitator said. “We didn’t want it to just be… [people from] one place. We wanted it to be more diverse.”

Each group had a facilitator — either adult or youth — who helped mediate the conversation and make sure discussions remained open-minded and respectful. 

“Human beings need rules and framework to [disscuss controversial topics],” Mestrovich Seay said. “Otherwise, it’s just mass chaos.” 

The discussion was broken into three broad approaches to stop gun violence: making the logistics of performing mass killings more difficult, equipping people to defend themselves and rooting out violence and hate in society. Within each broader category participants voted to discuss two specific possible solutions to the problem. 

“[I came because] I feel really passionately about gun control, gun violence and mass shootings,” sophomore Paulo Tolentino said. “I understand people… wanting to be able to own guns….  But at the same time I don’t feel like there’s any like need… for certain normal civilians to be able to have… military use weapons.”

After the discussion was finished, each group was challenged to find something they all agreed upon in each category and present it to the whole group in a “town hall” seating. Groups also formulated a “call to action” as the last activity of the forum, in which they laid out they could and those in authority could do to fix the problem.

“A criticism of deliberate of forums is, it’s just all talk,” Mestrovich Seay said. “We want to see thoughts become behaviors.”

The event’s goal was to a the very least open up a healthy conversation among youth about gun violence, though this was the first event of its kind run by the local 4-H group, they hope to hold others into the future.