"Where Are Our Leaders? Alethia House's 'Teens Who Care' program Grooms Youth For Service:
By :Edward T. Bowser | email@example.com
(About the writer: Edward Bowser is a community engagement specialist for the Alabama Media Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
"There's been a lot of talk about black leadership lately.
Distraught communities are looking for guidance as they cope with recent injustices and backlash, someone who can help them organize and serve as a symbol for their cause.
La'Shavi'a McCurdy and Ronald Forte represented the Teens Who Care Youth Leadership Program at a convention in Hartford, Conn., in September.
But I don't think there's a need for a figurehead.
If there's anything I took away from the teachings of great men like Martin Luther King and local legends like the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, is that it's up to a community to lead itself. Why wait around for a leader when we have the blueprints and tools to build our own?
Aletheia House in Birmingham gets that. The nonprofit's Teens Who Care Youth Leadership Program is cultivating dozens of leaders, starting at age 12.
"People need to look at the bigger picture and realize what's happening in your area happens everywhere," Ronald Forte said.
La'Shavi'a McCurdy chimed in: "Not just Birmingham, but the nation."
Ronald and La'Shavi'a, both 16, have been participating in Teens Who Care since age 12. The group works in the Arlington, West End and South East Lake communities to raise awareness of underage drinking, but that message isn't confined to those neighborhoods. They recently spoke on underage drinking at the National Prevention Network Conference in Hartford, Conn. It's a component of the National Association of State Drug and Alcohol Abuse Directors, which works as an advocacy and communication system for prevention.
Ronald and La'Shavi'a are humbled by the opportunity to speak on a national stage but they aren't the least bit intimidated. They've been trained well.
Aletheia House is community-based group that provides substance abuse treatment and prevention services to low-income individuals. Teens Who Care is an extension of that effort, empowering youth to carry out that mission.
"The goal is to have alcohol sales lowered by 15 percent" locally, said Jessica White, Environmental Prevention Manager at Aletheia House. Teens Who Care are coming at that goal from all sides.
Youth leaders conducted a community mapping project to collect data on convenience stores that sell alcohol and their proximity to area schools. They hold block parties in their communities to spread the message of the dangers of underage drinking. And they hold frequent town hall meetings in their communities to facilitate discussions.
Ronald said one such meeting bolstered his dedication to the cause.
"There was a video that was shown of a man and wife who was hit by a drunk driver; their baby died," he said. "That motivated a lot of us to work hard and stay at it."
That commitment is paying off. Teens Who Care entered a PSA on drinking and driving in the UAB School of Public Health's annual Koronisfest competition, winning third place overall.
The group has also formed a partnership with the Addiction Prevention Coalition - a deal La'Shavi'a brokered simply by walking up to a coalition organizer and striking up conversation. Many adults lack that type of bravery, but La'Shavi'a is a leader.
"I thought it would be a good idea to build better bonds with each other," she said.
"I've watched these kids grow and develop into positive role models," White said. "They have bright futures ahead of them."
She's right, but they're not just role models. They're leaders.
To learn more about the Teens Who Care program, contact Jessica White at (205) 279-3999 or email@example.com.