City Councilor tells SHA youth to aim high in life
For City Councilor Justin Hurst, nothing is more important in life than having your own voice, and using it to make your community a better place to live.
Brought up by parents who have long served in the public arena, Hurst, a lifelong city resident and attorney, is of the same ilk, and felt a pull towards activism even as a young child. When he grew up, he did something about it.
“I always knew I had an obligation to give back,” he recently told members of Springfield Housing Authority’s Robinson Gardens Apartments Youth Group.
“The most important thing in this life is to have a voice and to use it, to speak out for what is right, and what is just,” he added.
Hurst proved a compelling speaker to the group of teens who meet daily after school to focus on academics, jobs, and paving the way to a good life. They peppered him with questions about his education – he has a juris doctor degree from Western New England University – and his professional life, which includes a stint as a high school teacher in the city.
They also asked him about the public life that he has embraced since being elected to the City Council in 2013.
Hurst was glad to oblige them.
“I consider myself an advocate for everybody in the city. I’ve been vocal on a lot of issues. I’m not afraid to speak up when I feel the need to,” he said.
Indeed, he has spoken out on issues including a residency requirement for city and oversight of the Police Department, the MGM Casino opening next year in downtown Springfield, among others.
His advice to the Youth Group was to stay on track with school and to reach for goals to attain as adults, whether that be education or work, or both. He also told them to stick to their own personal values and principles, always.
“Be more of an advocate for yourselves,” he said. “If you feel there are avenues for you to move forward with in terms of careers, or anything, follow that. You’ll be much more powerful if you advocate for yourself.”
What can teens to do get their voices heard? “Write letters to your mayor. Tell them you want funds for youth summer jobs. There’s a lot you can do,” he said.
Youth Group members said they were impressed with Hurst’s commitment to helping others, and to his own success story.
“He was really good,” said Jaleiry Reveron, who is 14 and a student at Kennedy Middle School.
“I liked it when he said that we fail more than we succeed, but we should never stop trying. It makes me want to succeed,” she added.
Her sister, Katherine Landron, agreed.
“He’s a great motivational speaker,” said the 17-year-old, who attends the Springfield Conservatory for the Arts. “He showed us that you should never stop trying, you should always reach higher for what you want in your life.”
Kashawn Lenorr, 15, said he liked what Hurst had to say about perseverance.
“Never give up on yourself. There’s always something to reach for,” said Lenorr, who attends Kennedy Middle School.
The Youth Group is run by SHA Youth Engagement Coordinator Jimmie Mitchell, who brings in visitors weekly, usually local people who have made successes professionally. Hurst fit that model perfectly.
“My goal was to bring in someone from the city’s political system so the youth can get the experience of someone in a high position in the city, someone who has power and clout to get things done,” said Mitchell, a retired counselor from Putnam High School.
“This was a great experience for everyone,” he said.
Hurst said he knows he will never stop giving back. He said his parents, local attorneys Frederick and Marjorie Hurst, both with long political experience here, have always been role models. Hurst is also married to an elected official, Denise Hurst who serves on the School Committee. They have one young son.
“I had the benefit of having two parents who always expected greatness of me. That was an expectation, that I needed to do good things,” he said.
“I grew up knowing I had an obligation to give back.”
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