That is what members of the Jersey City Youth Squad did last week as they followed local policy makers through their workday.
The Youth Squad trains kids ages 12 to 17 to address social and civic issues. It was created by local resident and community activist Kisha Harris as a personal response to the violence that has affected young people in the area.
There are 24 members in the Squad, and some got to shadow Ward D City Councilwoman Viola Richardson, State Sen. and Bayonne Mayor Joseph Doria, and the head of the Jersey City Planning Department, Robert Cotter for a day.
"Too often, young people see City Hall or any government body as some place far removed from their lives," Harris said. "But it shouldn't be that way."One of the ways to bridge that gap is to afford teenagers the opportunity to meet with the individuals who create the policies that shape their town, she said.
"Knowledge is power for young people," Harris said. "The more they know, the more they can do to start changing our community for the better." Me and my shadow
On Monday, Rick Sentine, 16, got a crash course in city planning.
Sentine spent the day with the director of the city's Planning Department, Robert Cotter.
Cotter let Sentine in on a phone call to schedule a visit from some British urban planners to Jersey City in late October.
Sentine also attended a meeting with developers of two old buildings on Provost Street within the city's Powerhouse Arts District.
"Meetings are what we do here," Cotter told him. "I spend a lot of time with people who are looking to build something or don't want something built, or need some kind of plan put into place. So we have a lot of discussion as to what it is they are trying to do and what best serves the public interest."
Cotter added, "It's not who can make a lot of money or who's going to get a nice house. It's what best for Jersey City."
Cotter said that showing Sentine what he does for a living gives him an opportunity to show somebody what he considers is the "greatest job in the city."
Sentine said he had been looking forward to this day.
"I'm learning in a different environment, and it's nice so far," said Sentine. "I chose Bob Cotter [to shadow] because it was something different...and I was always into studying economic development."
Sentine also admitted that he may run for office after he turns 18 - for City Council or even U.S. Congress! 'The streets will not take them'
Kisha Harris spends her days working as a community organizer and youth advisor at the Fairmount Housing Corporation, a non-profit organization based in Jersey City. But she has a second job - helping to mold the leaders of tomorrow.
Harris founded the Youth Squad in 2004 as a reaction to two deaths. One was the stabbing of a close relative, Roscoe Harris. Harris was a former basketball star at Marist High School in Bayonne and Rowan University in Glassboro. He died in July of 2001 as the result of a stabbing during an argument.
Harris also knew Michael James Taylor, a 17-year-old St. Mary's High School student who was shot to death last year in a case of mistaken identity. Taylor was best friends with Harris's son Lester.
"The streets will not take them. I wasn't going to let that happen," said Harris.
Harris said that when she was forming the Youth Squad, she felt like was ready to give up working with the young people who initially joined.
"There were times when I thought they couldn't handle the responsibility of becoming leaders," said Harris.
But Harris and the young JC Youth Squad members' persistence have paid off. She has seen a maturity that has bloomed and manifested itself in their appearances at youth leadership workshops in Trenton and Washington.
She also is proud that they are running the Squad with very little supervision on her part - in other words, being leaders. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com.