COMMUNITY VOICES YOUTH SPOTLIGHT
There’s always something very encouraging about meeting positive young people. Even though my interview with Alexis happened over the phone, her voice carried that same infectious positivity. I guess it’s a combination of youthfulness, a passion for life and the well spring of hope that I feel when I’m talking to her and youth like her. They remind me that the future is still bright and that there’s still hope for humankind in the midst of all the craziness in our lives. Her voice and her cheery disposition brought me a sense of calm.
Alexis is a 16 year old, 11th grade student at Terrell County High in Dawson. I met Alexis through Shaunae Motley of Quest for Change, when she gushed (like a proud parent) about Alexis’ recent accomplishment. Alexis was a 21st Century Leadership Award recipient, having won this coveted award after being nominated by her advisor and competing against a field of her peers. When I asked Alexis about the award and the process associated with being selected, she stated “I was a little nervous”. As I interview her I’m thinking, “a little”? Even as an experienced speaker, I would have probably been more than a little nervous. That statement is just a testament to who Alexis is. Wise beyond her years and gifted in so many ways.
Alexis moved to Dawson Georgia 2 years ago. I asked her how she became involved in teen pregnancy prevention work as a youth leader. She shares that Ms. McCoy of Quest for Change was recruiting youth in the cafeteria at her school. She candidly states that she thought it would be a good thing and that she saw it as a way to help her peers. Again, I pause (in my mind as she continues to talk). I think to myself, who says Millennials don’t care? In 2013 Time Magazine ran a story entitled: “Millennials: The me, me , me generation.” The very nature of who Alexis is (and the many youth like her in serving as Youth Leaders throughout Georgia) disproves that title. Here is a 16 year old high school student who has signed-up as a peer leader because she cares about others and wants to make a difference. Again, I find myself encouraged. She goes on to say that she really wants kids in her age group to understand the risks and consequences associated with STDs, HIV and teen pregnancy. She states that many of her friends still think “it’s a game. It’s not that they don’t take it seriously, they just don’t know how serious it can be.” She goes on to say that she wants kids in her age group [her peers] to know about the risks of infection and the challenges [of teen pregnancy].
I asked Alexis a question that we as adolescent health practitioners all too often fail to ask; “what do you think we adults can do to help prevent teen pregnancy”? She responded by saying that, “adults should be more open minded, all teens are not going to be abstinent. Adults should give kids more options beyond…hey no sex”. With a wisdom way beyond her years she states that adults should [try to] have conversations about birth control [with youth] because teens don’t feel that talking to adults about sex is okay. Then more wisdom from the 16 year old leader… “Its more embarrassing to not know and get caught up than to ask the question.”
At the end of our interview, this future Nurse Practitioner issues a challenge to all of us, a challenge that I echo to my colleagues in the field throughout the state: Alexis challenges all of us to “get more kids involved in the work”. Now more than ever before, practitioners need to be intentional about allowing the youth voice to drive the conversation. We all know how we feel about the current state of adolescent health. If we are truly going to change the pervading narrative for the most vulnerable youth, our efforts must go beyond being informed by youth; they must be driven by youth. Thank-you Alexis for being who you are; the voice of the future.
This article was written by Jevon Gibson, Senior Consultant with Community Health Solutions and CEO/Founder of the Center for Adolescent Male Development (CAMD).