“Half of us had never been on a plane or even owned a suit before,” said Marquan Jones during a March 15 presentation before the Maywood Board of Trustees. Jones was before the board, along with four of his peers, to report on his experiences during a trip to Washington D.C. earlier this month for the Congressional City Conference hosted by the National League of Cities (NLC).

According to NLC’s website, the program is part of the organization’s “continuing efforts to promote youth participation in local government.” Municipal officials are “encouraged to bring youth [age 15-18] with them to the Congressional City Conference as youth delegates.” 

This was the first year that Maywood participated. The young delegates were guests of first-term Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon. The 26-year-old local official said he raised upward of $5,000 in private donations so the teenagers could tag along with him. Trustee Michael Rogers, who was also in Washington for the conference, dropped in on the group to see that “we were doing more than just eating at restaurants,” Brandon quipped.

“I had the opportunity to take some of the best and brightest individuals with me to Washington to learn about ways to improve our [community],” Brandon said. “I am extremely proud of their dedication and commitment.” 

The teenagers were hand-selected by officials at Proviso East and Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA). All of them had GPAs well above 3.0.

Jones, a senior student-athlete who will attend Cornell in the fall, said his GPA is around 4.7. The Ivy League-bound Maywood native said he and his colleagues toured Howard University and George Washington University while in the nation’s capital. They also learned a bit about the process of governing.

“A lot of citizens just like to complain, [but] we were able to bring back resources for how we can change the community,” said Jones, who noted that the youth delegates visited the offices of Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th), whose district spans Maywood, Forest Park, and other western suburbs, and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R).

“It was interesting to see people who make the nation grow,” said Proviso East junior Noah Salazar, who is also a member of the school’s student council.

Proviso East Junior Dominique Wallace, who maintains a 4.0 GPA and runs track, said her meeting with Melodee Colbert Kean — a councilmember in Joplin, Missouri and sitting president of the NLC — was life-changing.

“Her city was hit by a 200 mile-per-hour tornado that wiped out the city in less than 30 minutes,” Wallace recalled. “[Hundreds] of people were killed. Interacting with these different communities gave me a wakeup call. … In order to get Maywood prosperous … we have to invest in our community and stop making excuses.” 

The young people shared some of the ideas they took away from Washington. Terrell Jenkins, a senior at Proviso East who maintains a 3.6 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society and football team, advocated for strengthening the village’s youth council. 

“Our youth is what will bring this great village of eternal light back into the light,” Jenkins said. 

Anahi Soto, the youngest among the five delegates and a freshman at PMSA, recommended a series of grants the village could try applying for.

“These grants would help to increase the infrastructure for the businesses in Maywood as well as provide financial aid to help create more activities the youth could do so they can be occupied and off the streets,” she said. 

But the focal point of the youths’ advocacy that night was extending the program that allowed some of them to experience flight and formal wear for the first time. 

“For us to be able to do this is really life-changing, and I hope this can be expanded in the future for generations to come,” said Jones.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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