It was a great day for four East St. Louis high school students who got to run the city for the day.
From 9 a.m. until noon, the students, Anthony Wilmington (mayor) Brandon Rice (treasurer) Dameon Denzmore (fire chief) and Brandon Bush (police chief), shadowed the fire chief, police chief, mayor and treasurer to see what they do during a business day at City Hall and outside of it, too.
Then, at 1 p.m. they held a town hall meeting in the City Council chambers to share what they learned, their ideas on how to improve things in East St. Louis and answered questions that were posed to them from audience members about their experiences in the various jobs.
Wilmington, 16, who was the mayor for the day, is a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Charter School in East St. Louis. He opened the meeting, thanking the audience for coming out to listen to their ideas and thanking city leaders and the women of Delta Sigma Theta for everything they did to make their experience in key leadership positions memorable.
The students shared their ideas for improving East St. Louis. They talked about getting rid of some of the old structures and building new ones with young people and new ideas.
They talked about getting new businesses in the city. Denzmore, an 18-year-old student at SIUE charter school in East St. Louis, said the city has lots of businesses run by Arabic speaking people and instead of the community expecting them to speak English, schools, teachers and community leaders should offer classes in a variety of languages so consumers can understand those they're doing business with. He talked about how important a fireman's job is.
"They save people's lives when fires occur," he said. He said Fire Chief Jason Blackmon was a great teacher. He said he learned what he has to do as an administrator. He was surprised to learn everything the city's fire chief is responsible for.
"He told me he doesn't mind getting out in the street and fighting fires to protect citizens, even though he is the administrator in the department and has a lot of work to do as the administrator," Denzmore said.
The students talked about getting more people to invest in East St. Louis and economic development.
Bush, 14, attends Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory School in St. Louis and lives in Fairview Heights. He described his experience as police chief for the day as challenging and interesting.
"I learned how the police start the day, check in to enter the jail cell and process the prisoners," Bush said. "I also learned what Chief Michael Floore does to operate the Police Department on a day to day basis. It was a great experience and I was glad to have the opportunity to follow the chief."
Bush let out a big smile as he talked about riding in Floore's unmarked police car. And, he said he was reminded why he is making good choices in his life "I will never be in a jail cell," Bush said, noting that he saw two prisoners. One day, though, he could see himself as a police chief, he said.
Rice, 18 and a senior at SIUE charter school, said he was the "Godfather, because I have all of the money." Rice filled Treasurer Joe Lewis' role for the day. He said if he were to grade Lewis, he would give him an A as a treasurer and as a mentor.
"I learned that money is fragile. As the treasurer handling lots of money, there needs to be a lot of communication between you and the people you supervise," Rice said. "Interaction is very important because your office serves the citizens and business owners."
Rice said he liked the treasurer's job because it is a position of power and "I like to be in charge. It's also a good job."
Lewis said "He learned how the treasurer checks and balances the cash drawer before the start of the day and interacts with three citizens and one business owner and to see how checks are signed off on."
Floore commenting on his student shadower said Bush was a great kid who shows great promise. And, he was happy to have him shadow him for the day.
"We talked about the crime in the city and some things we're implementing to make improvements in the crime rates and overall public safety in the city. He learned that a chief has to make decisions, some of which are not going to be popular with some of the staff. But, it's the chief's job to make the decisions and stick with them," Floore said.
As the students exchanged their ideas for improving the city they talked about having residents and visitors participate in a campaign they called Buy East Louis on Thursdays. They want residents and visitors to make a conscious effort to spend money with the businesses in East St. Louis.
Theresa Flanders, a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, the sponsor of the event, said she was well-pleased with the experience the students had.
"It's our first time doing this and we will be back next year on Presidents Day with some more young people."
Flanders said the mentoring group that Delta Sigma Theta sponsors is called Empowering Males To Build Opportunities for Developing Independence.
She credited the current administration with going all out to help mentor young people.