WASHINGTON — In an effort to combat violence and poverty in D.C., the advocacy group, Don't Mute D.C., held their annual "MLK Jr. Conversations and Crank" event at the Anacostia Arts Center on Saturday.
D.C. Chief of Police Robert Contee spoke on a panel with the Attorney General and other representatives from the Mayor's office. But before the officials started talking, teenagers were given the opportunity to speak their mind.
"You never know what can happen when we step foot outside the door," said Keion Williams, a 16-year-old from Anacostia High School.
He was one of the seven teenagers, who sat on the roundtable which began the day. The roundtable was called "What we want and what we need."
"Telling us to speak up but not actually acting on what we say," said Williams. "Or not listening to us for real – that just makes the children in the community want to stop talking and just be quiet more.”
Also on the panel was Cartier Miller, who called for more services, which could keep teenagers off the streets.
"What we mostly need is a recreation center around the community," he said. "So more kids can be in a safe place or a safe environment.”
Thirteen-year-old Eris Busey was also on the panel and said it's important that adults listen to their concerns.
"I think it's really important to shine a light on our youth community in D.C..." she said. "There is so much better we can do."
The event included multiple panels, focusing on issues such as economic justice and crime. On the crime panel, Chief Contee spoke about the need to balance accountability with support for troubled teenagers.
"While there is an issue, there’s still hope," he said. "There’s still hope. It’s not that we’re so far off track – so far off the rails – that our young people can’t be saved. I don’t believe that.”
Ron Moten, from Don't Mute D.C., was also on the panel, and spoke passionately about the loss of life. In just the first two weeks of 2023, there have been seven homicides in the District.
“If we don’t hold parents accountability in our community," he said. "And we keep on not supporting parents in our community, we’re in trouble.”