Teen Dating Violence Awareness Summit 2023
A Light in the Darkness
MCADV Staff was overjoyed that for the first time since COVID, we were able to host the Teen Summit in-person. Months of working with our Teen Council revealed topics that needed to be addressed this year. In our Council Meetings, members shared what they and their peers discussed in the school hallways, on social media, and in their cliques. These factors led to the selection of this year’s theme: A Light in the Darkness. In addition to providing teens with tools to be a light in their families, in their communities, at their schools, on their jobs, we were able to highlight topics that offered hope and light to all who attended the Summit. Being a light in darkness inspires others to do good, not harm, to protect, not hurt, to own our power, and to use our influence to make the world a brighter, better place.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the statistics are alarming: 1 in 12 high school students experiences sexual violence, 1 in 12 high school students experiences dating violence The long and short term effects are equally alarming–including, but not limited to, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, and antisocial behavior. Unfortunately, symptoms are often attributed to “kids being kids,” or ignored completely. Phenomenal speakers from right here in Mississippi addressed teens, parents, and youth leaders on suicide prevention, the importance of self-esteem, the latest trends on sex trafficking, and mental health matters. With an impressive number of years of combined education and experience, presenters drew from their personal and professional expertise to shine light in each session, providing tools to participants to better equip them in their respective roles and relationships.
Motivational speaker Dwight Owens kicked off the summit with a message of building self-esteem, hope, and confidence. At the age of 23, he was struck by a drunk driver. The accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. Despite Dwight’s circumstances, he shared that he lives with more peace and joy than he has ever had. His message for our youth is, “Know how valuable you are and know that everyday counts for something.” Before he began his deep dive into how to heal yourself, he led attendees in a “Youth Power” chant! The freestyle rap that followed stirred up the crowd and energized the room! Dwight shared that his mission in life is to simply make sure people are hopeful and understand how valuable they are. He often visits hospitals to talk to those that have suffered a traumatic, life-changing event. Dwight lets them know that they can overcome their current situation because they are greater than any circumstance. Throughout his session, he shared stories about people that thought they would never get through painful ordeals and how he helped them see their worth and build their confidence. Dwight’s overall message was that we can build our self-esteem and live in joy by healing ourselves from the wounds that hold us down.
Another interactive positive self-esteem session was conducted by Police Chief LaTosha Myers. In society, a lot of admiration and time is given to chasing bags – money, clout, name brand merchandise, and fame. Instead of chasing those bags, Chief Myers challenged the teens to “Be The BAG – Be Brave, Be Amazing, and Be Great.” She shared that “You are already the bag. It’s you – not the things.” To demonstrate this, the attendees were provided bags that they filled with the things that make their bag. They wrote down different things that made them unique and stand out from others. At the end of the timed exercise, a prize was given to the participant with the fattest bag. Chief Myers warned them to not let their bag become a trash bag or a knock-off (fake) bag. This can be prevented by being yourself, working to keep your bag clean, and preserving who you are. The session concluded with Chief Myers reminding attendees to never stop adding to your bag. Fill your bag every day with knowledge, skill, and positivity.
After lunch, attendees gathered to hear a testimonial from Hailey Promise, a human trafficking survivor, about her personal experience with Human Trafficking. She gave a firsthand account of her experience and how her mental state and lack of confidence in herself guided her decisions. Rachel Daniels, of Consulting and Counseling with Rachel, led an afternoon session focused on suicide prevention. Attendees were engaged throughout the session as Rachel shared signs to look for in young adults that could be triggering. She also shared the importance of having genuine and open conversations with our teens every day, showing them how important they are and reminding them that their life matters.
Parents that attended the summit were able to take advantage of specialized Parent Track sessions. These sessions were led by Open Up MS and Rachel Daniels. They focused on Mental Health Matters and the importance of the 988 mental health crisis line.
Parents and teens commented on how much the day meant to them:
As one parent stated, “This is needed everywhere, a place where our children can feel safe to share their experiences and receive help and a wealth of community support.”
Another parent noted, “ At first I did not understand why my wife was making me come, but I am so glad I did. I learned how to better communicate with my children when they are experiencing issues in their life and that I owe them my undivided attention when they need me.”
One of the Teen Council Members shared, “The speakers discussed their personal experience with not only domestic abuse, but real-life issues such as chronic illness and homelessness. This was eye-opening to me, and I realized how I take little things in my life for granted and I saw what others did not have in their life. I also got to hear how the speakers overcame there challenges with persistence and a positive attitude.”
MCADV extends heartfelt gratitude to Rachel Daniels, Hollie Jeffries, Dwight Owens, and Chief Latasha Myers. We appreciate the sponsors, volunteers, and each person who was a part of making the Teen Summit a success and for being A Light in the Darkness.