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Clayton teens discuss gangs, relationships at annual summit

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Julio Lugo, a sophomore at the North Jonesboro Alternative School, wanted to share his story as an ex-gang member with his peers.

Juwhan Arnold, a sophomore at Riverdale High School, and Brittany Lundy, a junior at Mundy's Mill High School, thought a dialogue on acceptable relationship practices was worth discussing.

The students were part of a leadership team which had to pick three topics for Clayton County teenagers to talk about at the seventh annual Clayton County Teen Summit, which was held on April 11, at Riverdale Presbyterian Church. The youths participated in workshops on gangs, relationships and sexually transmitted diseases.

"We decided to pick only three topics because there wasn't a lot of time to fit everything we wanted into the summit," said Jasmine Arnold, a senior at the county's Open Campus High School. "We also wanted to have workshops on teen pregnancy and drugs, but they can be addressed next year."

The summit was a collaboration of Georgia State University's School of Social Work, and Awesome, Inc., a Clayton County-based youth development organization. Other sponsors of the summit were Clayton County Juvenile Courts, the Clayton County Board of Health, and the Renaissance Concourse Hotel.

"This is basically designed to bring youth together, and get them to start a dialogue on the issues they feel are important to their peers," said Elaine Connally, a co-founder of Awesome, Inc.

The keynote speaker for the summit was Charles Lee-Johnson, chief executive officer of the California-based National Family Life and Education Center. The nearly 40 participants in the summit formed a circle around Lee-Johnson as he began to talk to the youths about growing up in a single parent home, running away from home, and getting involved in gangs.

"If you don't make decisions for yourself, then the streets will make them for you," Lee-Johnson told the teens. "Based on the decisions you make, your life is either going to go up, or it will go down."

Connally filled out a proposal asking the Georgia State School of Social Work for help with the Teen Summit last summer. Every summer, the school accepts proposals for its masters class which focuses on community service. Georgia State students chose which proposal fits their interests.

This year, masters students Carmen Thompson, Ericka Lewis, and Shaquanda Jacobs chose to work on the Teen Summit.

"We chose this proposal because Ericka and Shaquanda like youth development projects," Thompson said. "It was difficult at times because none of us live in Clayton County."

Thompson, Lewis and Jacobs spent seven weeks working with the 12-member youth leader board planning the summit. "We talked with them about being facilitators and character building so they could help lead the summit," Jacobs said. "We also told them 'If you know who you are, that will help you resist peer pressure.' "