Tri-City students attend Youth & Justice Forum

October 19, 2012 

Ovidio Castillo of Pasco said it was a relief to know he doesn't have to be perfect.

The 15-year-old Chiawana High School sophomore said he wants to be a criminal investigator or firefighter after high school, and he paid close attention to law enforcement and legal officials who talked about their backgrounds during Friday's 10th annual Youth & Justice Forum at Columbia Basin College inPasco.

Some of those speakers came from migrant families, or they maybe didn't do well in school all the time or had made other poor decisions in life. But they were still doing work the Ovidio said he was excited about and respected.

"Everyone relates to what I want to do," he said.

More than 200 students from Benton City to Kahlotus attended the forum, getting a glimpse at the world inside courtrooms and police stations, and advice on how to become part of that world.

The Washington State Minority and Justice Commission started the forum to reach and educate youth from disadvantaged or under-represented groups within the legal system.

"We wanted them to be involved at all levels of the justice system," said Salvador Mendoza Jr., a Kennewick attorney and one of the event's organizers.

The event offered a variety of activities, from skits meant to educate students about aspects of law enforcement and illustrate procedures such as the use of police dogs, to panel discussions, including one with Washington Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez and Chelsie Elliott, a graduate of Kiona-Benton City High School now in her first year of law school at Gonzaga University.

Elliott said she attended the forum in its third year when she was in eighth grade and decided after attending that she wanted to go into law.

"I don't like being bored," she said. "This is one thing I knew I'd never be bored."

Both her parents are college graduates and emphasized the importance of education. Elliott herself went through the Running Start program, getting her first two years of college done at CBC by her high school graduation, but she said being from a small community led some people to doubt her ability to go into law.

Now, she said, it's a little weird to be on the other side of the table from the students.

Organizers said despite having to cap the number of student participants each year because of budget restrictions, the event is getting better each year.

This year was no exception, as the students milled about and crowded around judges, lawyers, court reporters and law enforcement officers.

"This is the most engaged (the students) have ever been," said Monto Shan Morton with the commission.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service