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Students moderate Brooklyn Park mayoral debate

A group of high school students recently offered a new angle to local elections.

Pro USA of Brooklyn Park offers extracurricular activities for students through sports and other programs, including a Brooklyn Park Mayoral candidate debate on Thursday, Oct. 23, at Brooklyn Park City Hall.

Three co-hosts and other student organizers asked mayoral candidates Jeffrey Lunde and Joy Marsh Stephens questions targeted toward youth.

“Our desire is to ensure that every kid who comes through the program participates … in their city, and each kid is college-bound,” said Pro USA Executive Director Stephen Wreh-Wilson.

Wreh-Wilson said Pro USA has three programs: life skills, academics and athletics. In the life skills program, children are assigned to a life coach who serves as a mentor, teaching skills in personal finance, civic responsibility and family-planning skills. The academic program offers homework help, college preparation, media projects and scholarships. The athletics program has provided an athletic scholarship, and it is re-organizing to create recruitment opportunities in different athletic programs.

Students who took part in Pro USA moderated the debate last Thursday.

“This debate is an essential way that the youth of Brooklyn Park are involving themselves in our city’s democratic process,” said Destinee Doe, a junior at Osseo Senior High School. “It is not only our right, but also our fundamental duty to come face to face with our leaders on the issues that affect our lives and our future.”

Doe said one of the main things they wanted to address was that Brooklyn Park is seen as a city, not a community.

“This debate is not about these candidates,” Doe said. “It’s about us, the youth of this city.”

The questions did reflect that theme, about relationships between schools, the city and families, bullying, violence in schools, job creation, education disparities, shifting economies and neighborhoods and poverty reduction, among others.

Part of that community-oriented theme included a question about creating safe neighborhoods.

Doe asked: “Break-ins are a big concern in some neighborhoods, and so are negative influences like drugs and litter. What role does the mayor play in making the city safe? And what are your priorities for (safety) and comfort?”

Lunde responded first.

“Where we have neighbors who are connected and know each other, good things happen,” he said. “… Criminals don’t like people who pay attention.”

When neighbors don’t know each other, it provides an opportunity for burglars and criminals to act unnoticed, he said. Even if neighbors do not like each other, if they pay attention to the neighborhood, they’ll know when something is out of the ordinary and can be reported, he said.

Stephens said in addition to looking out for one another and building relationships with neighbors, crime is a manifestation of deeper challenges, based on economic and social disparities that make someone desperate enough to commit a crime.

Part of the city’s work is creating a community that feels connected, and another role for the mayor and city council is to address the root of the systemic problems, she said.

“How do we provide jobs to people that need jobs? How do we address issues of landlords who do not treat their tenants with respect? How do we help our kids be engaged in productive activities so that they’re not making poor choices with their time at the expense of their neighbors and of their communities?”

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4. Additional voting information is available at An overview of voting requirements is also on the front page of this edition.

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