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Boston’s mayoral candidates hear about youth concerns

Sgardy Pena (left) and David Landing-Leal spoke to William J. Dorcena, a candidate for mayor, at Saturday’s Youth Peace Conference at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Sgardy Pena (left) and David Landing-Leal spoke to William J. Dorcena, a candidate for mayor, at Saturday’s Youth Peace Conference at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.

After watching a play about the impact of violence on Boston’s youth, eight mayoral candidates talked about what they would do to improve the community.

The forum, held Saturday evening at Dorchester’s Strand Theatre, was part of the 21st annual Youth Peace Conference organized by Teen Empowerment.

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Stanley Pollack, Teen Empowerment’s executive director who founded the program in 1992, said he invited mayoral candidates so they could hear young people discuss the issues that matter to them.

The Teen Empowerment show, “True Stories for One Glory,” touched upon domestic violence; young teens turning to selling drugs to make money; a young, pregnant woman contending with her father’s substance abuse; and a young man with a criminal record and a child struggling to find a job.

The show revolved around a pizza shop called Slice of Glory, where the owner encouraged young patrons to express themselves.

A number of candidates said they would give teenagers more leadership positions, and more say in city affairs.

“Young people need to have more of a role in running this city if we’re going to have peace on our streets,” Bill Walczak said. “It’s not about talking at you, it’s about listening to you.”

John F. Barros, who stepped down from the Boston School Committee to run for mayor, touted his experience working with students. Young people should have control over their lives and educations, he said.

“The biggest thing we can do for our young people is — adults, get out of their way, because young people have so much to give us,” Barros said.

Other addressed inequities within the city.

“Every neighborhood should be as good as any other neighborhood in the city,” City Councilor Michael P. Ross said.

State Representative Martin J. Walsh said inequity has existed in the city for decades.

“We’ve had a lack of opportunity in our neighborhoods for a long time. We need to work to bring the businesses of downtown to our communities, so our kids can have jobs,” Walsh said.

City Councilor John R. Connolly said he would work to see students from different neighborhoods and family situations perform at a high level in school.

Charles L. Clemons, co-founder of radio station TOUCH 106.1 FM, said the city “has turned its back on our youth. How did that happen? We don’t have quality schools in every neighborhood,” he said.

Charlotte Golar Richie, a former state representative and aide to Mayor Thomas M. Menino, touted a personal connection to Dorchester, where she lives.

“I’ve seen the ups and downs of this community, and I know that you are here because you want to keep the ups,” she said.

William J. Dorcena, who grew up in Uphams Corner, said he wants to turn more teenagers into successful adults.

Pollack told candidates he would like to see a year-round youth jobs program that accepts people from their mid-teens to their early 20s to supplement the city’s current summer jobs program, which accepts people age 15 to 17.

“It’s not a program that is part of a comprehensive system. It’s kind of just there, and it’s gone,” Pollack said after the forum. “If you give them a little bit of opportunity, just a little bit of opportunity, they respond to that.”

Teen Empowerment members wrote the script, songs, and spoken word pieces.

Levi Doumbia, 18, of Roxbury, played Paco, the goofy, mostly silent pizza maker who was bossed around by Slice of Glory’s owner for most of the show. At the end, Doumbia made an impassioned speech calling for more jobs for young people to break cycles of oppression, to audience applause.

Doumbia sat at the edge of the stage after the curtain call, greeting friends. He really enjoyed performing, he said, though he wished the audience was larger.

He was less impressed by the mayoral candidates.

“All I heard was a bunch of words for them to try to touch people to vote for them,” Doumbia said. “The only way I’m going to feel anything is if they follow through with the words they say.”

Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com.
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