16 County Representatives participated in the adult panel. These representatives include State Rep. Mark Romanchuk, Prosecutor Bambi Couch-Page, Mayors of Ontario, Shelby, Bellville, Lexington, and Mansfield; MPD Chief Ken Coontz and METRICH Commander Petrycki; Mansfield Law Director John Spon, Commissioner Gary Utt, Mansfield Sr. High School Principal, Dr. Jose Hernandez; Shelby Chief of Police, Richland Co. Mental Health and Recovery Services Director Joe Trolian, and representatives from the Ohio Highway Patrol and more.
Also present were special guests for the Richland Stands United youth panel: local organizer, Justin Philips; Ocie Hill Neighborhood Center Director, Lisa Hall; Pastor Russel Stanford, CACY Director, Lisa Funk; Mansfield Senior student, Isaiah Slone; Mansfield Sr. student, Brian ‘Toledo’ Benson; and St. Peters student, Tiara Ross. Mrs. Floyd also was a member of the youth panel.
Youth panelist spoke powerful truths, that according to Isaiah Slone, “adults and professionals in the community, should take more seriously.” Slone said when asked how gun violence affects young people in Mansfield, he said,
“It comes down to whether we want to move our lives forward and become successful, or do we just want to become another statistic, another young person taking risks for a life of crime that’s not likely going to lead anywhere.”
On the topic of bullying, youth panelist Brian Benson encouraged audience members, that if anyone sees an act of bullying, to try to stop it or report the behavior to an adult.
“People who are bullies, have issues going on inside. I don’t believe that bullies are better than anyone else. If I see one of my fellow peers getting bullied, I’m going to step in and try to stop it. If I feel that I can’t stop it, I’ll get someone who can. There’s no excuse for bullying, ever,” stated Benson.
Justin Philips, local organizer and a recovering addict, specifically to heroin; spoke to the issue on drugs and shared his personal story with the audience.
“You know, although I am responsible for my actions and choices that I made in the past, I would never wish addiction upon anyone. It’s something that you deal with day by day, year by year.”
When asked about steps toward solutions to the drug epidemic, Justin spoke to youth programing and reducing the effects of boredom when possible.
“When kids, young people are bored, is when things can really get out of hand. We need to coordinate more activities for our youth. Show them that we care and want to involve them in what’s going on around Richland county, especially during the summers when they’re out of school,” Philips stated.
During the main segment, Mansfield Sr. High School Principal, Jose Hernandez, spoke to taking immediate action to help students considered ‘at-risk,’ by connecting them with more services, including a weekly intervention course that Hernandez teaches on Wednesdays.
“I believe we need to make extra supports available to all of our students. But for our students who have fallen behind academically, socially or in-terms of behavior; we have created space during the school day, that allows us to bring-in outside supports, including mentoring agencies and groups that promote positive relationship building,” Hernandez said.
But focusing on the future of our youth is one thing, and dealing with what is happening now with gun violence and the drug epidemic are completely separate things. When asked how the drug epidemic could be stopped, the panel could not outline a specific plan. However, Richland County Prosecutor, Bambi Couch-Page, says it would be a huge impact if, “we could work on ways to concentrate our communication efforts on what’s out here.”
“We live in a county that is full of resources. We need to work to connect people to the services that are already available,” stated Couch-Page.
Councilman Don Bryant stated,
“Although the panel [including myself] could not outline a specific solution to the situations at hand; I believe they’ve taken meaningful steps forward toward creating solutions as leaders of Richland County. This panel has proven that they are willing to work together to coordinate and to strengthen services. By panelists showing up today, they are proving that they are also open to new ideas and more than willing to work with the public to develop solutions.”
“Regardless, as representatives of various levels of government in Richland County, from the state-level to the local and regional levels; we are all actively addressing the on-going issues of drugs, violence and youth issues,” Bryant stated.
Youth panelist, Tiera Ross said she appreciated the responses from the government representatives and wants to be part of the solution.
“Having a discussion on these issues is one step closer to reaching real solutions.”
For more information on Richland Stands United, contact Trina Floyd directly or join the Richland Stands United group on Facebook.