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Citizens Honored, Youth Commission Debated At Pittsfield City Council Meeting

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Pittsfield City Hall

Tuesday night, the Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council accepted a city proclamation celebrating two citizens and debated the merits of reviving its youth commission.

The meeting began with Mayor Linda Tyer – joined by 3rd Berkshire District State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier – offering an official celebration of city residents Manny and Vanessa Slaughter.

“Vanessa started a dance program in the summer of 1997 for her daughter Nyanna and her friends to provide them with an opportunity to be involved in a positive activity," said the mayor. "This program later blossomed into a free summer camp that Manny and Vanessa operated for over two decades in the West Side neighborhood. Through their own money and grants, the young people in the West Side attended Broadway shows, visited the Bronx Zoo and Fenway Park. In later years – and thanks to partnerships such as the Berkshire United Way – the camp transitioned to the Marilyn Hamilton Sports and Literacy Camp, providing hundreds of young people with fun and enriching activities with a focus on literacy.”

The Slaughters – who retired from the camp in 2018 – were recognized by the state Black and Latino Caucus for Black History Month as local leaders for their efforts at civic engagement, education, and more. Before their family and friends – including Manny’s mother, who came from New Jersey for the occasion – Tyer administered the city proclamation.

"I, Linda M. Tyer, mayor of the city of Pittsfield, on behalf of its citizens and city officials, on this 25th day of February, 2020, proudly honor and recognize Manny and Vanessa Slaughter for receiving the 2020 Black Excellence on the Hill award," said Tyer, to applause. "Congratulations to you both.”

The Slaughters were later namechecked by Councilor At-Large Earl Persip during a debate about the merits of resuscitating the city’s dormant youth commission.

“I think there’s professionals that do this every day, and I think re-activing a group just to meet and really not have a purpose or a goal – it’s fine," said Persip. "The goal could be to have all these ideas and great things, but they don’t have funding to back those kind of things up. We have great organizations in this city – Manny and Vanessa are an example – of things that get things done on the ground that actually affect youth. I don’t think a youth commission – I don’t think the youth commission back then really affected much.”

Persip was responding to a petition aimed at reviving the commission from councilors Kevin Morandi of Ward 2 and Anthony Maffuccio of Ward 7.

“This is a very needed function in the city of Pittsfield," said Maffuccio. "It is a public board and commission. It’s not a private one. We have great agencies in the city of Pittsfield, yes we do. However, it is the job of the city to also engage programs for their youth through a youth commission that’s been there. They have held youth summits, they have held conferences, they have really been engaged in the past.”

Maffuccio noted that the youth commission is written into the city code, and says the body would allow Pittsfield youth to participate directly in governance. He rebutted Persip’s claims that poor attendance would doom a new incarnation of the commission.

“Why wouldn’t somebody want to support it and give it a shot and give youth nowadays the benefit of the doubt that they’ll come forward and want to partake in this?” asked Maffuccio.

Persip – a former employee of the Berkshire Family YMCA – said the commission’s structural shortcomings made the new petition a nonstarter.

“I worked with youth for 20 plus years," he told the council. "I ask anybody in these council chambers, when’s the last time they walked into a youth organization and volunteered? I ask, when was the last time – the first problem with the youth commission, all the youth agencies said the same thing: no one asked them. No one asked them what their opinion was, no one asked, I’m sure, about this. That’s your first problem. Where are you pulling kids from? It’s got to be thought out. I did this work for many, many years, and if you just think you’re going to get kids out of the blue to come volunteer, you don’t have some base knowledge with them… Where are you going to get them from? Just asking the schools? It’s not going to work, and that’s why it didn’t work the first time.”

The council voted to file the petition and sent it to the ordinance and rules subcommittee, with Morandi, Maffuccio, and Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell in opposition.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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