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Teen Summit at Birmingham High School With Focus on Mental Health and Internet Safety

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Ashley Weaver, Chapter President of Phi Iota Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, chats with 13-year-old Rhyan Williams of Bush Hills Steam Academy, who aspires to be a traveling nurse. (Kesia Sharpe-Jefferson, The Birmingham Times)

By Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson

The Birmingham Times

Bright colors, smiling faces and dance music with the latest hits on blast set the tone for a Community Teen Summit hosted Saturday at Ramsay High School, an event that focused on mental health and internet safety.

The day identified issues that can be sources for struggles and challenges with teens and ways to address those as a community, said Makella Moore Harris, Assistant Principal at McAdory Elementary School, and the founder of the Fine Arts Find Life (FAFL) organization that sponsored this event.

More than 25 organizations were on hand to support the summit either as vendors, selling their goods and services, or agencies providing informational resources for students.

The timing of the summit was key, said Harris.

“Going into the holidays, we want to spread awareness and make sure teens know when they’re online, that they’re mindful of the things they are posting (on social media) or the things they are texting their friends,” she said.

Harris said her group uses “data from a survey conducted with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) back in 2021 to drive the focus of our community teen summits.”

The focus is two-fold, she said. The first is to highlight the community’s role in fostering a productive online environment and secondly, promoting “safe and responsible engagement on digital platforms.”

“We’re dealing with so many predators out there …. we’re dealing with trafficking, cyber bullies… and while they (students) understand the mechanics, they still need adult guidance to be safe, productive and responsible.”

Students from several Birmingham City Schools came out as well as parents and other educators.

Parents and students visit vendor booths.set up for the Community Teen Summit at Ramsay High School in Birmingham. (Keisa Sharpe-Jefferson, The Birmingham Times)

Rhyan Williams, 13, an 8th grader at Bush Hills Steam Academy and member of the grade school sorority Delta Kappa Delta, said she loved the “welcoming environment” and the fact that those who organized and supported this summit on internet safety “care about my future and my life.”

And Rhyan, a Wylam resident who wants to be a traveling nurse when she graduates school, added, “Mental health is very important because sometimes you can be at your lowest and you need somebody to talk to about it, so you won’t have to go through suicidal thoughts.”

Ramsay 11th grade basketball players Tremell Washington and Jeremiah Ford, both 16, stopped by the Summit before heading to a game in Oxford. Both live in Birmingham.

Tremell says he thought the event was important to shine a light, not only on internet safety, but on mental health because “a lot of kids go through things that not too many people know about, especially at school and (especially) those who do extracurricular things.”

Jeremiah agreed. “Even though we play sports, and it’s a breakaway, staying on mental health is still very important for athletes,” he said.

Ashley Weaver, a Registered Nurse by profession with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and Chapter President of the Phi Iota Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated in Birmingham, said she attended the summit because “our organization is all about supporting our youth and making sure they have the resources that they need.”

Weaver, a self-described “boy mom,” is a married mother of two sons, ages five and two.

Weaver was joined by several members of her sorority and said they support the event because it helps teens to “understand some of the vulnerabilities that might impact them (in the areas) such as social media and other technology they use.”

In addition to vendors, the summit also featured interactive games, giveaways and speakers along with sponsors the City of Birmingham, Birmingham City Schools, the Birmingham Police Department and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.

Harris says the ultimate test is not just attendance at the event, but what happens afterward.

“We want the kids to absorb the information and apply it to their everyday lives,” she said. “But also, for the kids who are here, (we want them) to share it with their friends who did not come.”

 For more on FAFL visit Fine Arts Find Life or call 205-800-8548