Friday, Nov. 30, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Anaiya Parks, a 17-year-old junior at Legacy High School, was one of many students pre-registering to vote in the hallways of the Las Vegas Convention Center on Thursday morning.
Even though the midterm elections have passed, and Parks is still too young to vote, signing up to fulfill their civic duty was paramount for the teens who attended the 62nd annual Sun Youth Forum. (Nevada allows voter pre-registration at age 17.)
More than 1,000 students from 52 high schools came together to discuss everything from teen topics, like the legal drinking age, to law and crime, immigration and the U.S. government’s role in the world. Leaders in education, law enforcement, finance, journalism, the nonprofit sector and others served as moderators.
Las Vegas Sun founder Hank Greenspun started the event in 1955 to give the city’s young minds a platform for intelligent debate about issues relevant to their lives and far beyond. That first year, 96 students from five schools attended.
Parks, who phone-banked for Rep.-elect Steven Horsford prior to this month’s elections and has ambitions to one day become speaker of the House, said becoming involved in the political process was the most significant way to influence change.
Ditto for Matthew Borello, 16, who moved to Las Vegas from New York last year and attends Palo Verde High School. A junior with ambitions to enroll at Columbia University and become an astrophysicist, Borello stood among 22 peers in a civics-based “America” session.
Debating in favor of civic engagement, Borello said NFL players’ protests during the national anthem was beneficial for its role in bringing light to issues of inequality.
“They’re being good American citizens,” he said. “It’s our duty to protest against a system we think is unfair.”
A dozen $1,000 scholarships were awarded to high school seniors, whose names were drawn from a drum during an afternoon lunch session by representatives from Barrick Gold USA, Nevada State Bank, UNLV and Touro University Nevada.
Tenors of Rock, a British band that performs at Harrah’s, also performed for the students.
Metro Police Undersheriff Kevin McMahill was one of three valley law enforcement leaders speaking on controversial topics like gun control, immigration, racial stereotyping and police brutality. He praised the students for taking on the “real world issues,” with bold proclamations both for and against perceived police behavior.
Jessi Pintado, a junior at Las Vegas High School, was one of 23 students in McMahill’s session. She challenged the undersheriff on her belief that police operated from a higher authority than citizens, and that officers’ word, right or wrong, always trumps that of the people they have altercations with.
“I don’t believe they wear a crown, just because they’re officers,” Pintado said.
McMahill said body-worn cameras have improved officer accountability, calling the devices “absolutely wonderful” for relations between Las Vegas police and members of the community. Both McMahill and students agreed that improved technology will help close the accountability gap.
Pintado said the event helped soften her stance against police officers. While she entered Thursday “not liking” police, she said the debate and McMahill’s receptiveness helped significantly change that view.
Zac Walusek, a junior at Clark High School, and Chloe Wiley, a junior at Spring Valley High School, debated that officer discrimination toward minorities is often a direct reflection of race relations as a whole in a given community. Walusek, citing a school police officer at Clark that he has become close with during his time at the school, said focusing more on keeping officers in place long-term in communities will help foster stronger levels of trust between smaller neighborhoods and a community’s police force as a whole.
Las Vegas’ ethnic diversity and overall level of tolerance has helped make the city a relatively strong area for positive relationships between people of different ethnic backgrounds, and helps make Las Vegas less prone to the unrest seen in Chicago, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, among other large cities.
“Most of these kids are exposed to every race and culture. Las Vegas is ahead of the curve,” McMahill said. “That’s why I think racism is eventually going to go away.
“It gives you hope for the future,” he added. “There are some incredibly bright kids in here.”
Scholarship winners included (as provided by Las Vegas Sun) Alexandra Fiallos, Arbor View; Hector Gonzalez, Cimarron-Memorial; Idalia Concha-Guerrero, Las Vegas High School; (as provided by Barrick Gold USA) German Amigon, East Career and Technical Academy; Devan Henriott, Foothill; Mubarek Hussen, Desert Oasis; Jenna Rosario, Coronado; (as provided by UNLV) Caitlyn Bledsoe, Shadow Ridge; Nicholas Wagner, Foothill; Laron Whitfield, Mojave; (as provided by Shelley Berkley) Landon Morrison, Desert Oasis; (as provided by Nevada State Bank) Jazmyne Hall, Legacy.