On June 9, VOX hosted a unique event sponsored by Atlanta’s Adolescent Services Network with the purpose of creating conversation about what teens want to see in programs built for them. A group of five six teens were on a panel: Zach Schaefer from GLSEN, Jahleelah Shaheed from VOX, Kalenza Robinson from Center for Black Women’s Wellness, Catherine Boyd from VOX, Brittany Pugh from GCAPP-PEER UP, and Dasia Evertsz from VOX. Dasia asked the panel questions about their experiences with teen programs.
The audience was comprised of adults from different nonprofit organizations around Atlanta, as well as a few representatives from a local school system.
Independence and respect were key things the teens wanted the audience to take away. The concept of being “teen-led” is something that the teens said they want to be taken literally. Not only do they want to be able to mostly — if not completely — control all of the ways the programs are facilitated, but they want their input and opinions to be respected the same way adults’ are.
“My favorite teen program is VOX because it’s so different from clubs at school, which are usually led by adults,” said Jahleelah Shaheed, VOX summer intern. “[They’re like,] we’re gonna teach you how to do this, and you’re gonna listen and learn. With VOX, we’re teaching each other.”
Zach named a program called JustUsAtl, a discussion forum for LGBT youth in Atlanta, as his favorite teen program because they made sure to abolish those types of adult-dominated systems and let teens make the decisions. “Our oldest members are 25,” he said. “Hierarchal structures are dismantled.”
Even though teens want the ability to control their decisions, they also say they love being able to depend on adults for instructional and emotional support. “You’ve given us this freedom, so now it’s our show. We still have to take care of it,” said Catherine Boyd, VOX summer intern. “Let us know that we still have your full support because a lot of us might be too prideful to ask for it. Make sure that you’re in our corner.”
The teens on the panel definitely don’t let themselves be limited by their age. Besides the work they are already doing in their teen programs, they each had plenty of their own goals and aspirations for what they want to do to better their communities. Brittany said she wants to take her work with PEER UP to the next level by revolutionizing the sex-ed system and making it more applicable, relevant and accurate, so teens can share information with each other. She also wants to create an organization to help homeless teens receive mental health services.
Kalenza from CBWW’s L.O.F.T.Y. Crew also wants to improve the lives of young people experiencing homelessness, and said homeless shelters should provide additional services, such as spoken-word, to alleviate the stress of their situation.
The adults and teens on the panel were able to effectively communicate, and each side learned something from the other. Hopefully in the future, there will be more discussions where teens and adults can work to better understand each other’s different needs.
Miranda is a senior at Duluth High School in Gwinnett who loves art and photography, and hopes to use them to one day become a blogger/journalist.