Empowering kids to make America great again: Interview with Richard A. Stevenson Sr., Wayne Township Trustee

| February 24, 2016
Eric Hackley

Eric Hackley

By Eric Hackley

Eric Hackley: Trustee, the reason I wanted to interview with you is, you speak frequently about self-empowerment and education as being key attributes to a revived and healthy Black Community.  Therefore, my question is, why do you feel it is important for kids to be involved in student elections where they receive symbolic titles?  What does it that do for them?

Richard A. Stevenson Sr.: It does a lot of things for them and it does a lot of things for the community.  One thing that is lacking in the community here in Fort Wayne and a lot for the urban communities is the lack of political awareness. These young people are getting it at a young age and they’re getting involved in it and they’re learning what politics is all about.

I was excited when I first heard about this program because one of the things that we failed to do as a minority group is to empower younger people to get involved with the political process.

I’m hoping that maybe one of those men (Roderick Austin and Dontarious Frizzell), if not both of them continue to learn and to be more a part of the community and maybe one day they might become mayor or they might become the Wayne Township Trustee or they might be a councilman just because of their early involvement and awareness in the political process.

HACKLEY: Not only that, they were voted on by kids kindergarten through fifth grade.  What I noticed was, the kindergarten and other students were asking this exact same questions as adults would be asking: Why should I vote for him?  Many of these young people had relevant questions and observations.  Does the same thing hold true for them too?  Shouldn’t this activity remain in their memory bank as the first time in their life where they actually voted for a candidate even though the candidate was an eighth grade student?

Wayne Township Trustee Richard "Rick" Stevenson

Wayne Township Trustee Richard “Rick” Stevenson

STEVENSON: Most certainly, it will. I can remember myself going back many years ago and trying to make myself that type of person that would be able to be a candidate. These young folks whether they’re in the fifth grade or younger and so forth, they will also remember their first involvement in politics and how they voted and supported one of their friends. That friend had to present himself in a manner that he knew that he could represent his peer group and do it well.  He has to be a listener to the concerns of the people and know how he can best represent the people.

HACKLEY: One more thing on that. I want to go back to something else that you just said here.  Not only did they have the election, but we also had a political convention  where each candidate had a chance to present their case to the student voters and these children came back with questions and comments slamming hard at them. There were a lot of insults involved and that’s the exact same thing adult political candidates have to deal with.

STEVENSON: Most certainly, that’s one of the prime things that you must do.  You’ve got to be aware that we all are not on the same page and you have to learn how to deal with every facet there is. Some are highly educated, some are barely educated but most are always opinionated. If you can deal with that, you’re going to be successful. We must always remember that we have a responsibility to do the right thing after gathering all the information and then do the best thing for the majority of the people.

HACKLEY: How old were you when you first became interested in the political process?

STEVENSON: Actually, I guess it’s always been a part of me at a young age just like you were talking about these fifth graders and younger and so forth. They were presenting themselves in a positive manner and you have to go way back in time to prepare yourself so that you’re not involved in things that will come back and haunt you.  At a very young age, I was always listening and helping people resolve issues in their life.

HACKLEY: In the Inner City of Fort Wayne, there was not a big voter turnout. What else can we do to make sure that the people get involved and vote?  Must we ignore present day voter apathy and start over and re-instill the desire, knowledge and the right to vote history through kindergarten students?

STEVENSON: I think that’s the first thing you have to do.  You have to reach out to the young people and try to educate them and then you come on up to the masses and remembering that you must have something, a magnet to attract them to come out.  Just singing a song (like We Shall Overcome for instance) will not do it. But, you have to have something to educate them with in order to give them a reason to participate, and they will.

HACKLEY: I recently had the opportunity over to interview over 30 elementary school students asking them about their career, ambitions and what they would do to make Fort Wayne or America better in some way.  Not surprisingly, they had very thought-out answers when people were telling me that these kids don’t know what they want to be and they don’t have any views on issues. Why is it important to pose thought provoking questions to young people?

STEVENSON: What I would like to say and it’s foremost part of me, that is what is your legacy?

We must get our young people involved and prepare them for the future.  Education is the thing that will do it and that’s what I’m so involved in. Two years ago we started the RAS (Richard A. Stevenson) scholarship that tries to get young people involved in turning around their negative grades into positive grades, and being the best that they can be so they can make a better America.

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Category: Civil Rights, Community, Education, Politics

About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at hackonomicstv@gmail.com.

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