I am strong because I can lift my own weight. I am smart not just because I get As. I am bold because I am not afraid to stick up for my rights.
On August 5, 2011, I represented Girls Inc. as a Champion of Change award recipient. It was an incredible privilege to participate in this conversation about how to counter substance abuse and its terrible effects on our nation.
Interestingly, most adults who abuse substances began during adolescence. Hence, prevention work with youth, such as that done by Girls Inc., is a critical part of the solution.
Girls Inc. works with girls at critical ages when peers are becoming more influential, and helps them develop healthy responses to pressures from friends, boyfriends, media, and other sources. Currently, we focus on prevention with girls 11-14. We then provide opportunities for them to teach younger girls and their communities what they have learned.
Girls Inc. begins by addressing key ways and reasons girls use and abuse substances. For example, girls are more likely to be introduced to substances by an older boyfriend, so we talk about healthy relationships. Girls often initiate smoking to lose weight, so we help girls build a healthy body image. Our girls-only environment and supportive staff encourage honest and safe exploration of these topics.
We currently conduct this work in 61 communities across the nation, and it goes well beyond our centers. In Albany, Georgia, girls participate in parent communication workshops and lead annual drug-free neighborhood marches. In Lynn, Massachusetts, girls educate liquor store owners about the laws and consequences of selling or buying alcohol for underage youth.
When I came to the White House, I brought Ebony Pettway, 12. When Ebony first walked into Girls Inc. she was nine and starting to face the many challenges girls encounter at this age of growth and change, including how to behave, dealing with peers, and grades.
Three years later, Ebony is outgoing and achieves academically. She believes in her ability to make her own decisions, create positive change, and have a bright future. Ebony serves as a peer educator and appears in a local television PSA written and produced by girls to foster community awareness around substance abuse.
Ebony is one example of hundreds of thousands of girls who have taken what they’ve learned at Girls Inc. and brought it to their daily lives and interactions. She told me she will remember her visit to the White House forever for the opportunity to share how girls like her can act as agents of change.
Changing the rates of substance abuse is a vital issue for the health and wellbeing of our communities and the nation. Girls Inc. is proud to play an integral role in this work and believes that every girl can be like Ebony and realize her potential as part of the solution.
LaKisha R. Bryant is Executive Director of Girls Inc. of Albany, GA. As a representative of Girls Inc., she took part in a Champion of Change roundtable discussion on substance abuse at the White House on August 5, 2011.
Learn more about White House Champions of Change at http://www.whitehouse.gov/champions. Plus, check out a video interview with LaKisha at http://www.whitehouse.gov/champions/drug-control/lakisha-bryant.
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