Hispanic Youth the Focus of Summit

Photo: Mike Peters

Former U.S. congressman Herman Badillo.

In August, Montclair State hosted a Hispanic/Latino Summit which brought together scholars, state and local government officials and business leaders to discuss the challenges facing Latino youth in New Jersey. Organized by Project C.O.P.E. (Communities Organizing for Prevention and Empowerment) with support from Paterson mayor Joey Torres, the summit was prompted by the findings of a survey administered to high school students in Paterson in which Latino adolescents reported a greater inclination than non-Latino students for a variety of risk-taking behaviors.

Called “The Paterson Youth Survey,” the instrument was created and administered by Project C.O.P.E. under the direction of Robert Reid, associate professor in the Department of Family and Child Studies. The results showed that Hispanic teens are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and violence, and have a higher rate of drug and alcohol use than teens of other ethnic groups. The study further showed that the Hispanic community placed a lower importance on finishing high school, getting a diploma or going to college. The students also reported that the importance put on education by their parents was low.

Keynote speaker Herman Badillo, the former U.S. congressman (New York) and deputy mayor of New York City, stressed that the solutions to the problems must come from within the Latino community itself and not the government. He said that many excuses are used to explain problems such as poverty or poor language skills but pointed out that other ethnic groups have done well under the same conditions. “For example,” he said, “the Asian community has overcome these obstacles in just one generation—why not the Hispanics?”

As the fastest-growing ethnic minority in the U.S. student population, finding solutions to the problems faced by Hispanic youth is vitally important. The summit’s organizers hoped that the event would lead to fresh ideas for solutions.