It was a packed house at the Pine Bluff Convention Center for the State of the Youth Address on Tuesday. The inaugural event allowed members of Mayor Shirley Washington’s first-ever Youth Council to reflect on the work they’ve accomplished so far in office.

“I am most honored to have the privilege of working with the young people that worked here this semester…,” Washington said. “It’s so critical that we invest in our young people, that we believe in our young people and that we train our young people. If we want good citizens, then (we) have to raise them to be good citizens.”

Washington, who was elected in 2017, said the idea for the Youth Council was birthed from a conference she attended in North Carolina.

“When I first became mayor and I went to my first National League of Cities in Charlotte, North Carolina. I saw where other cities had their own Mayor’s Youth Council, and from that day in November 2017, I said, ‘We have to make this happen for the City of Pine Bluff,’” Washington said.

According to the City of Pine Bluff’s website, the mission of the council is to provide high school students with an “opportunity to be advocates within in their community as they analyze and develop solutions on key issues.”

The creation of the council allows young civic-minded leaders to use their voices to make an impact in their neighborhoods by working with community leaders.

“The purpose of the Mayor’s Youth Council is to vividly give a voice for the youth in our community,” said Youth Council Mayor Christopher Blunt, Jr. “The council was composed of leaders from schools within Jefferson County and we were able to come together to illuminate on what problems were hurting the youth in our community.”

Initially, Blunt applied to be a council member. But he was selected to lead the council in a decision he described as God’s plan. The graduate from Pine Bluff High School says being a part of the council taught him to be responsible, dedicated and even open-mined.

“One thing I do want the youth to know is that never let the fear of failure hold you back,” Blunt said. “The City of Pine Bluff needs us, because sooner or later we will have to fill the shoes of those doctors at JRMC, the teachers in our schools, and the mayor of our great city. We are the future of Pine Bluff, and in order for the city to trust us; we have to be able to show them that we’re capable of that through doing productive community projects.”

During the State of the Youth Address, members of the Youth Council highlighted various projects they’ve organized and participated in since their March 9, 2018, inauguration. The community projects include those centered on education, crime prevention, city beautification and youth activities.

“The ultimate goal of our committee was to get youth involved to make Pine Bluff a beautiful and vibrant city,” said ninth grade council member Dylan Mayo. “Our committee was dedicated and determined to fully organizing and facilitating events that would allow youth to be actively involved and active in the revitalization of our city. The overall vision of our committee was to make the City of Pine Bluff a city where newcomers wanted to live and old-timers wanted to stay.”

Mayo said the first project the City Beautification Committee hosted was the opening of a community garden in Pine Bluff.

“This was a community-oriented event that emphasized unity and educating youth and adults on how to plant vegetables, trees and fruits,” he said.

Washington says raising leaders will play a crucial role in the future of Pine Bluff and insists that the Youth Council will be a bridge in creating life-long citizens that invest in their own community.

“We have been so pleased with the outstanding talent that has come forth from these 18 high school students in grades nine through 12 this year of the mayor’s first Youth Council,” she said. “We can’t wait to see what will come forth next year.”