FAIRBANKS — Be intentional, know yourself, and make good choices was reinforced again and again by the speakers at Tuesday’s 25th annual High School African American Student Leadership Conference.
More than 125 students from local high schools elected to spend the morning and early afternoon listening and joining in dialogue with speakers who survived adolescence and continued working hard to go on to successful careers and lives.
Words of wisdom directly intertwined with the hard realities of being a teen and surviving today’s world intact, and the value planning for future goals, was the basis of each speaker’s message, combined with lots of encouragement.
The “Campus Day” program was held at the Wood Center on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus Tuesday. A similar program was held Monay for middle school students at West Valley Performing Arts Center.
Keynote speaker, Dewain Lee, dean of students at the University of Alaska Anchorage, focused on “Life: Living Intentionally for Excellence,” this year’s conference theme, and challenged students to take the theme to heart.
“You can’t let failures define your life. Let failures teach you,” Lee, who holds four degrees, said.
She explained that she worked hard to earn her education. “I knew it was important for my future and for my family, and I did it as a legacy for you,” she told her audience.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of courage. Don’t ever give up on yourself. Believe you are talented and brilliant.”
Lee also asked students to show up in their lives and not live passively allowing life to just happen.
“Ask yourself each day, ‘Am I living or just existing.’”
The day long program was broken into two sessions divided by gender.
Girl topics focused on choices and personal self-esteem, and the boys’ sessions were similar, centering on vision and goals, awareness and accountability.
Lee engaged the girls’ group to talk about and understand the many choices they make each day from getting out of bed to go to school, to working hard and making friends.
“You are the product of the choices you make,” she said. “No matter how small they are, there are consequences.”
Students defined healthy relationships, ranking communication — being able to talk and listen — as most important.
If a relationship turns toxic, Lee advises letting it go. “You have the choice and the power,” she said.
“Believe in yourself and that you are deserving of respect,” Lee said. “There is only one of you. Don’t let that one be abused.”
She also counseled the girls to not be pressured into sex or anything they aren’t comfortable with.
“Listen with your heart, instinct and your gut,” she said. “They will tell you to run from that person —run.”
Retired math teacher Brenda Henderson talked with the girls group about self esteem, believing in one’s own abilities, and understanding their ethnic identity.
She lightened the discussion with a game of BALL. “B” is for believing in oneself and determining one’s ultimate goal in life; “A” is for achieving that goal; “L” is for living it; and “L” is for loving it.
A large plastic ball was divided into quarters and each section marked with a “B,” “A,” “L” and “L,” for the girls to throw around and answer a question on how they were going about to achieve any their goals in life.
Another way to encourage oneself, Henderson suggested, was to take a paper plate and on one side write down all your qualities, and then ask friends to list what they see as your qualities on the other side.
“When you’re feeling down and out, look at that plate,” she said.
Henderson also stressed how just saying “hi” to someone at school can erase all the negatives of their day, and saying “a kind word to somebody can make all the difference,”
After lunch, the students came together for a talk by Fairbanks pediatrician Dr. Shallon Craddock.
The physician, who lived in Fairbanks as a child, focused on obesity, violence, dating violence and sexually transmitted diseases, to empower teens to make decisions that won’t lead to unhealthy outcomes.
She quoted some alarming statistics: 1 in 3 African American children ages 2-19 are overweight and obese which results in long term health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma, as well as social stigmatization.
She backed up her statements with reasons why — less access to supermarkets and healthy foods, among others — and added suggestions for eating healthy.
Sedentary lifestyles such as watching 6 hours per day of TV, adds to obesity as well as allowing children to witness tens of thousands acts of violence during their growing up years.
“Guns mean run,” Craddock told the students. “Don’t stick around and don’t touch. Tell someone. If a friend is carrying around a gun. Tell someone anonymously.”
Another daunting statistic shared by Craddock about dating violence is that 80 percent of African American high school girls are likely to be hit, slapped or hurt by a boyfriend.
Verbally violent abuse, emotional violence and threats, all fall into the same category and become a life or death situation.
If they are yelling, swearing or pushing you down, “They do not love you,” she emphasized, adding that dating violence it is not limited to race, income or background and can happen in any relationship..
She urged students in such a situation to tell someone, a friend, parents, counselor, or the police.
STDs and the high incidence of HIV-AIDS among men and heterosexual females also is alarming, Craddock said.
Her ABCs prescription to stay healthy is “A”-abstinence, “B”-faithfulness to one’s partner and “C”-condoms.
But even condoms, she noted, are not 100 percent sure and may result in D-death or disease.
“These things are happening to kids your age,” Craddock said. “They are never going to go away.”