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City Councilor At-Large Felix Arroyo Makes Boston Youth His Priority

Posted by Alex Pearlman  September 13, 2011 05:23 PM

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felix.jpgOne of Boston’s four City Councilors At-Large, Felix G. Arroyo made youth issues a cornerstone in is 2009 campaign. The Boston native and Boston Public Schools graduate was born in the South End, grew up in Hyde Park, and currently lives in Jamaica Plain. He chairs the Council’s Committee on Labor, Youth Affairs and Human Rights and continues to put Boston’s young citizens at the top of his list.

TNGG sat down with Arroyo to discuss the issues affecting Boston youth today and what he’s doing to get younger generations involved and interested in politics.

Matt McQuaid: What are some of the challenges that young people are facing right now?

Felix Arroyo: I remember growing up, when you could get in a fist fight. You can’t do that now. Now, if an altercation becomes violent, it could be deadly. There seems to be very easy access to guns, very easy access to knives. Young people are even more aware of their surroundings, are even more looking over their shoulder, regardless of whether they themselves are caught up in anything....There’s a stereotype that you have to be involved in a lifestyle for violence to get you and that’s not true. That’s more dangerous now than when I was growing up. There were definitely murders when I was growing up -- one of my best friends when I was in eighth grade was murdered -- but I feel that young people today are looking over their shoulder a little more than I did.

MM: Last year, you held a youth summit at ABCD, and one of the biggest issues that came up was youth violence and easy access to firearms. What are some of the things that the city has been doing to make it harder for kids to get guns?

FA: It's very easy to get ahold of a gun. I think even the Boston Police would acknowledge that. I've had conversations with Boston police where they have told me that there are [gangs that] even have a[n illegal] gun share program....The other piece of this is that I think we're hamstrung by federal laws on this. I think or legislators at the national level...just don't get it, and they make it too easy to get your hands on a gun. There seems to be no appetite at the national level to close the gun show loophole....I don’t have an issue with the legal ownership of guns...but these gun shows that travel around, they have completely different laws....So you can go in and get whatever you want...and those guns end up in our neighborhood. I think that as a country, if we were serious about limiting access to guns to only law-abiding citizens, it would happen, but I think that there is so much money at stake with the people who manufacture guns that we allow for these loopholes to exist....I feel a little handcuffed, but what I can do is sort of ring the bell around guns and how important it is to make sure that guns stay off of our streets and [that] we’re doing everything we can as a government to protect our citizens, and that includes making it so you have to qualify for a gun.

MM: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about getting young people involved in civic life, because I think that’s really important. It’s no secret that youth turnout in elections is usually low, and that young people don’t like to vote, don’t like get involved.

FA: The generation that votes the least in elections are between the ages of 18 and 25. People who are over the age of 65 are at the highest percentage of all voters. The older we get as voters, the more involved in our government we want to be. Maybe we learn that [government] does affect us. I wonder if our job with our younger voters is to really help them understand the role that government does play in their life. There’s conversations at the congressional level around federal loans. That immediately affects people in that age group.

When I did my youth tour, visiting over 25 groups and over 500 young people, they didn’t know what a City Council was. They didn’t know what the role of a mayor was, and they didn’t even know how you got there. If you actually understand that an elected official gets there based on votes, and [that] it’s voters that decide concerns, and it’s voters who, in the end, decide who does or does not [get elected], that’s a powerful concept.

MM: As housing becomes more expensive, more and more people are leaving the city. As rent prices go up, young college kids, some of whom may not have a job yet, might lose their incentive to stay in Boston. What are some of the things that you and other elected officials are trying to do to deal with the housing issue?

FA: Boston is an economically diverse city. However, we have to work together to ensure that it remains that way. When public land is developed, we require mixed housing because we know diversity is the best thing for our neighborhoods. We also support the efforts of the many Community Development Corporations in Boston. Something that I have been working on is the "Invest in Boston" ordinance that would ensure that the City of Boston's monies are invested in banks that invest in Boston. "Invest in Boston" means financial institutions lending to small businesses and qualified home owners, refinancing mortgages, implementing foreclosure prevention programs, and conducting other practices in Boston that foster economic growth in the city. When banks start investing in our neighborhoods again, we will see more jobs, a stronger housing market, and revitalized small business districts.

MM: You created something called the Arroyo Youth Training Institute.

FA: After the summit [and] what I found about the lack of civics in schools and how government works, I thought instead of complaining about it, maybe I should do something. So we offered four trainings...[and] the one rule was that you had to come to all of them. We had 50 kids come out. I expected people to come, [but] I didn’t expect we would have 50 people who would attend that regularly, so I felt really good about it. It’s the summer; they could do something else. A lot of those kids are [now] part of our Youth Advisory Committee. They’re still active, they’re still out there, and they still go to community meetings. Hopefully one of those young people will end up taking my job one day.

MM: Do you think this sort of effort will help bring people out on election day?

FA: A lot of the kids I work with aren’t 18 yet, but I think when they talk to their parents or their grandparents, they are able to communicate why voting is important. I hope when they are of age they will go vote, and frankly I hope some of them are thinking, “Maybe I can do that job one day.” That’s going to encourage them to be active and make their communities better.

This summer, we decided we would go to youth organizations. I would be there for about an hour, but [the kids] decided what they would do with my time. I wanted to hear what young people are going through...what are the issues that are important to young people, what are some of the ways we can work on those issues together? Youth violence would come up. Drug abuse would come up. Fixing the schools would come up. Sports would come up. Cleaning the streets would come up. It was a good way for me to get a sense of what kids were seeing when they walked out that door. When I say youth issues are my priority, and that’s what I want to work on the most, you can’t do that without talking to young people. If you don’t do that, it’s almost like lying. You have to hear it from the source.

Photo by Felix Arroyo

By Matt McQuaid -- I'm a lifelong Democrat and writer of a politically-oriented column, "Banned in D.C." Hobbies include watching TV and listening to super-intense bands with mad-scary dudes that have tattoos and stuff.

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