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Merlene Davis: Teens need to show leadership

Grown-ups always seem to discuss what they could do, would do and have done for young people. It's a conversation that's become more commonplace recently with an escalating web of violence ensnaring our kids.

But in a couple of weeks, a conference is coming to Lexington at which young people can do something for themselves. The problem is, so far, they're not interested.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, or NOBLE, will have its annual conference in our fair city, one of the smallest venues in the organization's 35-year history. It was lured here by police Chief Anthany Beatty before he retired.

The convention attracts FBI and CIA agents, as well as state and local law enforcement officers from throughout the country who come to gain new information for their work. It also boasts, though, a free three-day leadership component for youth.

The NOBLE Youth Leadership Conference is open to anyone from ages 13 to 18. Churches, clubs, athletic teams or individuals can register young people for the conference, which will include a day at the University of Kentucky, said officer Connie Williams Rayford. Rayford, a member of NOBLE, coordinates the local Police Athletic League, which provides youth activities.

"This is really an outreach to the kids in the host city," she said. "But we haven't been able to get kids registered here."

Excuse me?

"I have sent out 300 applications, but only 20 have been completed and returned," Rayford said.

William Henderson, assistant police chief in Lexington, said one reason for the sparse interest is each application must be accompanied by a 250-word essay.

I couldn't believe it.

Most teenagers I know can text 250 words in half an hour. How difficult can it be to write those words on paper or type them?

Please.

Listen up, young folk.

One of the best ways to avoid becoming a crime statistic or being in the wrong place at the wrong time is to be a leader and not a follower.

Leadership, however, requires some nurturing for it to bloom the way it should.

That's what the conference is proposing to do.

Five areas of leadership will be explored: financial management, leadership development, strategic planning, knowing your political landscape, and community advocacy, which is what adults in Lexington have been doing recently to help you.

It's a non-competitive process. You will be assured a seat as long as slots are available.

The youth conference begins at 1 p.m. July 17 at the Hyatt Regency Lexington, with an orientation and a teen town hall event at 4 p.m. Families need to provide transportation to and from the Hyatt each day. The next day's activities begin at 7:30 a.m. and feature career-planning information before concluding at 3 p.m.

Beginning at 8 a.m. July 19 is "A Day at the University of Kentucky," with speakers addressing the ups and downs of college life. The day ends about 3:30 p.m.

The conference concludes on July 20 with the youth taking part in a memorial march and service that starts at Green Acres Park and travels about a mile to Consolidated Baptist Church, 1625 Russell Cave Road. That evening, the youth will have a banquet and dance from 7-11 p.m.

And all you have to do is apply and write an essay about either the meaning of leadership, an issue in your community and why it is important, or what you are doing to build a foundation for success.

No money is involved. No sitting at home bored. No cleaning the house while your parents are at work.

"This will also look good on their résumés for college," Henderson said.

Based in Alexandria, Va., NOBLE, which has 56 chapters in the United States and one in the Caribbean, began in 1976 as an attempt to become the social conscience of law enforcement and to serve the community, Henderson said.

Rayford said that is what the youth conference is all about.

"It is not just for those who we think are already leaders," she said. "We feel like all youths are leaders. We just need to tap into that."

And, young people, this column was almost 700 words and took me just hours to write. And think, you don't even need to interview anyone.

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