‘We’ve got to help our children’: Teen Summit in Vidalia aims to empower youth

Published 7:00 am Saturday, May 20, 2023

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VIDALIA, La. — Elijah Reed from Ferriday said he came to the inaugural Teen Summit last week at the Vidalia Convention Center with a lot of anger bottled up inside after suffering a loss but left feeling inspired.

Reed was among approximately 200 young men and women of the Miss-Lou between ages 12 and 19 who heard positive messages from motivational speakers and visionaries.

One of them was Frankie Russo, best-selling author of “Breaking Why” (2021) and “The Art of Why” (2016), who shared with the youth his steps to achieving an “authentic existence.”

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“I asked him what does he recommend I do with my anger and my rage because my brother passed away and people keep on talking about him,” Reed said. “He recommended that I tell someone how I’m feeling and gave me his card.”

“It was amazing,” said Mariah Chatman, as she waited in a line to receive her free copy of Russo’s book and get him to sign it. “He told us that everyone needs to follow their own path and be their own person. A lot of people don’t do that and just wear a mask.”

The event was hosted by the non-profit Hope for Humanity Foundation, which was founded in California in 2018 by Audrey Davis, a Natchez native.

“I started out there (in California) feeding the homeless and a young lady touched my heart,” Davis said. “From that day forward, I’ve been working with broken, abandoned and abused teens.”

Davis has taught special education for 16 years. In January 2021, she moved back to her hometown and started teaching in Ferriday. There, she continued the outreach she started in California. Saturday’s Teen Summit would be the first of many, she said.

“Mark your calendar for January 20, 2024,” Davis said.

In addition to Russo, some other keynote speakers included Dr. Keith Fox, Terri McGruder and NaKeisha Smith, who each spent the day “pouring into the kids’ hearts,” Davis said.

What was truly inspirational, she said, was how engaged the young ones were as they asked questions of each of the speakers, giving up a Saturday off from school to be there.

“We got to help our children. They’ve given up hope and have anger and fear in their heart.

These kids are angry and we need to find out why. If I can reach 10, it will all be worth it,” Davis said. “They were all participating, raising their hands and asking questions.”

The first Teen Summit was dedicated to long-time special education director Ruby As-Sabor, who died tragically in a house fire at her Natchez home in February.

The youth in attendance were taught to “love the weird” by embracing their uniqueness and sharing it with the world.

“It’s not about being perfect,” said Calviona Washington as her takeaway from the speakers. “It’s about making progress.”

In addition to the speakers, Saturday’s event also honored people in the Miss-Lou community who make a difference in the lives of youth, including District Attorney Shameka Collins, Sheriff Travis Patten, Loretta Smith, Natchez Adams School District Superintendent Fred Butcher, Concordia Parish School Board Superintendent Toyua Bachus and Ferriday High School Principal Shannon Doughty.