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Evening of Discussion to focus on area youth

By MASON BLANFORD mblanford@paducahsun.com

With the Paducah Human Rights Commission's annual Evening of Discussion coming up, Executive Director Bernice Belt gave one central tenet: "You can't grow if you don't know."

Local teens take charge this year during the free event titled "Youth Lead: Removing Barriers for Success." At 5:15 p.m. Thursday, doors open at the Robert Cherry Civic Center for anyone to relax and socialize until the appointed discussion from 6 to 8 p.m.

Event representatives stated the goal is to further include high school sophomores and juniors in discussing adversities to success -- unsupportive homes, illiteracy, poverty -- and how to overcome them. Area educators, nonprofit leaders and pastors will also attend, among other professionals active in local community development.

Commission Chairman Gary Reese said the conversation is about how these adversities impact education.

"Our concern this year is that there are certain groups not as college ready as others -- certain inequities in education -- and we want to address some of those issues," Reese said.

Belt said the event's name is specifically intentional:

"We used 'lead' instead of 'led,' because the (latter) indicates something past tense," Belt said. "We wanted to plant an ongoing seed, so this will probably be a new tradition for us and our student interns."

The commission formed its Student Intern Initiative in 2012. Belt said "student interns" from McCracken County and Paducah Tilghman high schools - chosen by school officials -- attend commission events and become more involved in community relations.

Despite a majority representation from those two schools, Belt wants St. Mary High School students and homeschooled teens to also get more involved.

"(Our youth) have expressed their desire to learn more about human and civil rights, and becoming more involved in the community," she said. "Our youth are not going to be youth forever. They need to address these issues in alleviating some of the barriers to success for young people (today)."

She hopes students who attend will follow a simple methodology for benefiting from the discussion: "listen, absorb, appreciate and utilize it."

Belt added the importance of community leaders also attending, including local law enforcement, mental health providers and parents of students.

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