The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Antioch School Board Member Ellie Householder on the topic of youth services.
An open letter to the Antioch City Council,
“Opportunity lives here” is a fitting slogan for Antioch. While our city has gone through major growing pains, our future together has rarely looked brighter. Yet the hard truth is that opportunity doesn’t exist equally for everyone, especially our largest and most vulnerable population, our young people.
Earlier this month, Kamani Stelly was convicted of four counts of attempted murder involving a 2016 shooting of an occupied vehicle at the corner of 18th and Cavallo. Thanks to the hard work of APD and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, he is now facing 160 years in prison. While justice may have been served, however, the damage and trauma this tragedy caused its victims and the entire community could well have been avoided.
At the time of the shooting, Kamani was 18 years old and a former student of the Antioch Unified School District. More likely than not, Kamani exhibited throughout his educational journey some sign of troubling behavior. The same might be said for Jordan Martin, who was murdered at the age of 18 last year in the Applebee’s parking lot, or the Deer Valley High School students who were loitering and disrupting businesses at Deer Valley Plaza in 2014. Whether anyone saw any red flags or bothered to intervene in the lives of these young people, we may never know.
What we do know is that these young people did not have the same access to youth programs, services, and resources that other cities Antioch’s size have. And this fact is preventing all of us from living and experiencing a safe and secure Antioch.
No one individual, no one single institution is solely responsible for how a 17-year-old enters the world of adulthood. It may sound cliche, but it truly does take a village to raise a child. As a current school board member and former AUSD employee, I understand that children are going to push the envelope. But as a community, it’s the responsibility of all of us–parents, educators, neighbors, police, and civic and business leaders–to teach them where the line should stop.
As the former chair of the City’s Sales Tax Oversight Committee, I was often concerned about how the city seemed to only understand public safety from an enforcement standpoint. Antioch is a city where a third of its population is school-aged, the vast majority of working parents commute an average of two to three hours each day, and latch-key kids are growing in numbers. Yet historically, any discussion about public safety has focused almost entirely on adding more police, and nothing else.
What truly keeps a community safe is its ability to address “safety” by balancing enforcement and interventions. Enforcement is important. Yet just as important, if not more so, is crime prevention. Essentially, youth services and programs represent this kind of preventative work. Study after study has proven that youth programs are highly effective at reducing crime in a community. And yet this crucial element of public safety is sorely lacking in our city.
I frequently hear about the pressing need for youth programs. The school district has done it’s best to provide these services, but our primary goal is academic. We need a partner in this process. That’s why I applaud the city for establishing the Antioch Youth Services Task Force consisting of Council Member Lamar Thorpe and Mayor Sean Wright. I’ve learned a lot from our community by participating in and observing the task force panels and workshops, including the fact that youth services are something our community desperately wants and needs.
By passing Measure W, Antioch citizens overwhelmingly voted in favor of adding before and after-school programs and other youth services and quality of life measures. Now it’s time to hold the city accountable and make sure our leaders deliver on that promise. On April 9th, the City Council will begin the process of allocating a projected $14 million in annual Measure W funds to increase safety in our city. I encourage all members of our community to show up and participate in this process, so we can all work together to create a bright, safe, and beautiful city.
While youth programming is an essential element to public safety, in Antioch, it is a glaringly empty piece of the puzzle. Filling it will ultimately reveal a bright and vibrant community that is safe, welcoming, and thriving. If we want the words “opportunity lives here” to have truth to them, opportunity must also exist for our young people. Now is our chance to make it happen.
Antioch Unified School District Trustee