Southland Comes Together for Hillcrest Youth Summit

Southland Comes Together for Hillcrest Youth Summit

By: Sharon Filkins, Daily Southtown
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Artist, actress and writer K-Love had a message for the more than 450 teen girls assembled last week at Hillcrest High School.

“Smart-mouthed little girls can become powerful,” she said. It was a lesson she had learned by living it.

K-Love delivered that message as part of the keynote address of the Sister 2 Sister Female Youth Summit, a daylong gathering of girls ages 14 to 18 at the school in Country Club Hills. It was the second year for the event, an effort to to expose the students to the vast amount of experience and expertise of people — professionals, alumni, parents and business owners — who have overcome difficult life situations and moved forward to led successful, meaningful lives.

As the day began, the crowd was introduced to K-Love, 36, and her accomplishments since debuting in 2003 on the Chicago poetry scene.

“What was read from my bio in my introduction was nice, but what is most important to me, is you,” she said. “I was your age once and I was a smart-mouthed little black girl who spoke the truth as I saw it, and I got in trouble because of it. I felt I was constantly underestimated. Mothers didn’t want their kids around me because they thought I was a bad influence. They told me, ‘children should be seen and not heard.’ Adults tell kids that often enough and they quit talking.

“But I didn’t stop talking, and now I get paid for talking. I want to empower you today. I want you to believe that what is considered a flaw can become your power.”

Hillcrest Principal Renee A. Simms said the energy in the room was lacking as the day began, but after K-Love spoke the participants were totally energized as they filed out to the various workshops.

“Our school is on a mission to educate, empower and enlighten the young women in our community with this summit,” Simms said. “The guest speakers, giveaways and a host of workshops are designed to empower our female students. We have more than 50 presenters, speakers and facilitators here today.”

Topics of the workshops included personal health and wellness, career readiness, conflict resolution and personal and financial literacy.

Partnering with Simms to produce the summit was Jason Thomas, executive director of 3 Seeds, a Hazel Crest-based mentoring group.

“It is time for the community to help our youth on their journey towards greatness,” Thomas said. “Somewhere along the way we all had some type of help and support. The positive and negative experiences we have had over the years is valuable and has helped us to become who we are. Our young women need to hear this and this conference provides the perfect platform to make that happen.

“We are attempting to create a village of support for the young women in this community before it is too late. There are so many bad situations that can be avoided just by learning from others who have been there before. We all have experience and knowledge that needs to be transferred to the next generation,” he said.

Advice on how to avoid bad situations was directly addressed by two of the conference speakers: Dr. Dorothy Anoina, a gynecologist from Advocate South Suburban Hospital, and Deputy Chief Dale Mitchell of the Hazel Crest police.

Anoina, leading a workshop on Healthy Body and Healthy Mind, told students societal and peer pressure can lead to some of those bad situations as well as bad relationships.

“Sometimes it is better to be alone than with someone who makes you feel inferior or does not respect you,” she said. “It is okay not to be in a relationship at your age. You need to stay focused on your plans for the future and what you want for your life.”

Later, she said that she has been in practice for 23 years and does a lot of speaking in women’s groups, churches and hospital events.

“I especially enjoy reaching out to the young girls,” Anoina said. “They are eager to learn and they need to know it is okay to be different. They need to build their self-confidence and self-esteem so they can empower themselves. I always speak frankly, telling them how important it is to take care of themselves. I think this summit is a great event for them.”

Mitchell, the deputy chief, led a session on Conflict Resolution including Domestic Violence.

“If we can reach them early enough we have a better chance to save them from the heartache and misery of domestic violence,” he said after a workshop. “Studies show that teen-age girls are subject to domestic violence situations. We want them to know what to do when they are faced with a bad situation. We tell them to remove themselves and get to a safe place if they can, and then contact the police. We tell them that no one has the right to put their hands on them, or to shame them with photos on social media, or to belittle them — no one.

“Domestic violence is the ultimate sign of disrespect. No one should have to suffer from this violence. Our department does outreach to victims and potential victims of domestic violence to let them know they can get help and be safe at shelters available in the southern suburbs.”

Akima Vaden, a sophomore attending the summit, thought it was great.

“I have enjoyed all the speakers,” she said. “They have great information on how to keep your head up and focus on positive things. I can relate to what they are saying, especially when they relate things from their experience in high school.”

She said she really enjoyed the College and Career Readiness session. When asked what her future plans included, she replied that she wants to be a firefighter/paramedic or work in a hospital.

“I am really glad I came today,” Vaden said.

Sophomore Morgan Smith agreed, noting she really enjoyed the message from K-Love.

“She was so confident and energetic,” Smith said. “She spoke the facts to us and really related to our generation. You can tell that she gets us.”

Smith said her main future goal is to graduate from high school, but she’s looking beyond that as well.

“I want to be a veterinarian but I am planning to go into the military first and then to college,” she said.