Taking Ownership of Your Future in the Delta
Myeisha Smith has learned that every action she takes is the result of a choice, and now she’s all about making sure her choices are good ones.
“I want to make the best decisions I can while I’m in high school so I can get to college and live my dreams,” said Myeisha, 16, a sophomore at Indianola Academy. “I can’t achieve my goals without learning how to choose the right roads to take.”
To help her find the best path forward, Myeisha recently took part in a Teen Summit, a day-long event that brought together students aged 12-18, educators and partners to reach common goals relative to life-changing issues that affect most students. More than 100 students from Washington, Sunflower, Coahoma, Yazoo, Leflore and Bolivar counties were invited to attend.
Sponsored by Delta Health Alliance and Sunflower County Consolidated School District, the summit featured keynote speaker Stephen Gills, a youth minister who spoke to the students about how to navigate their teenage years.
The summit is part of a Delta Health Alliance Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program that has helped students such as Myeisha to reach their goals through greater knowledge about sex, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. She and Delta teens in 10 public school districts have been learning how to make the right choices when it comes to sex.
The teen summit expanded on those efforts by incorporating sessions about community engagement, self-esteem, college readiness, and social and cultural enrichment. College recruiters from Mississippi Delta Community College, Mississippi Valley State University, Jackson State University and Alcorn State University were also on hand at the event.
“The message we want to leave with these students is that your future is based on the decisions you make today,” said Nikki Payne, who directs the project for the Delta Health Alliance.
Begun in 2015, the teen pregnancy program has helped meet the unique challenges of the region in terms of high unemployment and poverty rates and their relationship to teen pregnancy. Covering all 18 Delta counties, the program implements an evidence-based, medically accurate program that is sensitive to the cultural needs of the population it targets. The goal is to cut teen pregnancy and birth rates by 10 percent and teen sexually transmitted infections by 20 percent.
Beyond the efforts geared toward teen pregnancy, the summit gave students a glimpse into their future and what it takes to succeed in a highly competitive world. Students also participated in games, dancing and open discussions about the issues important to them.
“I plan to go to college and get a degree in criminal justice and then practice law,” said Myeisha, who serves as vice president of the Delta Futures Youth Advisory Council. “The summit gives me more information about college and really good advice on things like abstinence, making better choices and just learning how to become a productive citizen in my community. Events like this are really important.”