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Soledad O’Brien moderates Youth Town Hall Meeting

Soledad O'Brien

Soledad O’Brien

Soledad O’Brien moderates Youth Town Hall Meeting

By Marie Carrie

      Award-winning journalist and CNN Special Correspondent Soledad O’Brien was the keynote speaker and moderator of the #IamCHANGE Youth Town Hall Meeting on May 17, 2013.

The event took place at the Broward College Judson A. Samuels South Campus in Pembroke Pines, FL.  L.E.A.D nation sponsored the event hosted by Miss Kimmy and Shelby Rushin of WEDR 99 Jamz. L.E.A.D Nation is a youth mentoring group based in South Broward.

Prior to the town hall meeting, Soledad O’Brien was the guest of honor at a private reception in the Southern Breezes Café located on campus.

Members of the community and media were given the opportunity to discuss various issues with Ms. O’Brien. Topics ranged from her future projects (including her production company Starfish Media) to her past accomplishments (the very successful documentaries: Black In America and Latino In America).

The town hall meeting began with a video clip of youth and mentors discussing the upcoming South Florida Youth Summit Oct. 16-19, 2013 sponsored by L.E.A.D. Nation.  According to Shevrin Jones, founder of the event, the summit is about, “Getting together with our youth. Empowering them through sessions and seminars on knowing how to be proactive and interactive inside the communities, schools and churches.”

The welcome speech was given by Dr. Sean Madison, President of Broward College South Campus. He expressed his enthusiasm for the event with the words, “we believe in making sure we show our children the critical thinking skills that they need to actively en-gage in community service and project development.”

Immediately following, Soledad O’Brien was warmly introduced by Suzette Maylor of the South Florida Black Journalists Association.

In her keynote address, O’Brien shared anecdotes from her childhood in Long Island, NY as well as wisdom gained from a career that began as a “staple remover girl” in a small newsroom.

From this humble beginning, O’Brien learned “I could influence what stories we’re covering and how we told those stories.” Her desire to make a change and her passion for journalism has lead to an illustrious career that has given voice to people who, according to Soledad, have felt that “nobody ever wants to tell (their) story.”

Immediately following this portion of the program, Soledad shifted gears and became the moderator for a discussion on pressing issues facing today’s youth.

On the stage with Soledad were members of various youth groups such as L.E.A.D Nation, Honey Shine and Embrace. Questions came from the stage, live audience and twitter.

In reference to teen violence, Soledad asked why the problem was getting worse and what the cause was. A female high school student responded, “Us teenagers we don’t know how to go to an adult and we don’t know how to go to tell others.” She then offered a solution by stating, “We can change that by communicating with others. Letting each other know how we feel and we can come together as a team and try to influence other teenagers our age.”

One student, Dante from Nova Middle, posed a question to O’Brien. He asked what he could do to prepare for high school? Soledad’s response was not only applicable to high school, but it was applicable to life. “You can build in things that will make you successful just knowing your own weak-nesses. Not only in high school but for the rest of your life. It is the exact way of being successful.”

Soledad elaborated on this response, when Daniel from Nova Middle asked what he could do to be successful in 8th grade? “Set a higher bar. When someone says read 25 pages, read 35 pages. When someone asks you to do two pages, do three. Do everything more. “

A moment of levity was offered when a gentleman, who calls himself Yo Jeff the Hip Hop Dating Coach, made a shameless plug for his book and organization when allowed to take themic. And while his actions were humorous the youth’s response to his question was not. When asked how many thought it would be easy to get married? None of the 50 + students raised their hands.

One young woman, a bi-racial sophomore at Broward College, touched on an issue deeply personal to Soledad; racial identity. The young lady, A. Moore, asked “Have you ever felt like pressure just fitting in and how did you deal with that?”

O’Brien is the product of a Black Cuban mother and White Australian father but growing up she and her 5 siblings were taught to identify themselves as Black. Her mother said, “Don’t let anybody tell you you’re not Black and don’t let anybody tell you you’re not Latina.”

Soledad advised the young lady, “Don’t worry so much about trying to make other people feel comfortable with who you are. It is a complete waste of your time and it won’t work anyway.”

The final issue discussed at the town hall meeting was in reference to bullying, a hot topic nationally and locally.  In response to a third grader’s question about what she can do to address the problem, Soledad replied, “If you have somebody who’s bullying someone and you have told them ‘I do not like it. I will not allow you to bully my friends. It is not OK.’ And they do it anyway. That person might have to be fired as being a friend.”

Not only good advice for bullying; but good advice for life.


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