“I think people don’t realize how stressful it is to be a teenager,” said Brittany Boseman. A senior at Asheville High School, Boseman was one of the roundtable leaders for Me2We’s “We Matter 2” Summit, held at the YMI Cultural Center for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The summit brought together over 40 Buncombe County students to discuss four matters facing adolescents today: teen sex, stereotypes and inequality, mental health and cyberbullying.
We thought a lot on our topics,” said Mike Davis, also a senior at Asheville High School. “We decided to focus on what’s affecting society right now. Everything facing teens today falls underneath these four topics in some form or fashion.”
Both Davis and Boseman are part of the City of Asheville Youth Leadership Academy (CAYLA), a program at Asheville High. The CAYLA students created and ran the entire events.
“We’re just sitting here on the sidelines,” said one of the supporting adults, Deborah Miles, of the Center for Diversity Education. “It’s great, because there’s evidence that when you do this kind of [civic engagement] at this age, you do it for the rest of your life.”
“The idea was to come together and make situations better,” said Preston Roach, of the Urban Mentoring Academy. “To come up with solutions and find a way to implement them into the schools … we’ve always had a program on MLK Day, but not like this one.”
The program was all-volunteer as well: The students registered and attended of their own accord. They came from a wide range of high schools — Erwin, Asheville, T.C. Roberson and Owen — and the A-B Tech Early College Program, among others. This was intentional, said Davis: CAYLA wished to cast a wide net across the county.
“We really wanted unity from all the different schools,” he adds.
When registering, students decided which of the four discussion groups they wanted to be a part of. Following a catered lunch, students broke out into roundtables discussions. Like the rest of the program, these were entirely student-led, with CAYLA students acting as moderators.
The conversations pulled no punches. Boseman and fellow CAYLA student Taekwon Griffin ran the discussion on teen sex, and at one point Boseman was frankly discussing birth control — the different types, and how to get it.
“If you’re going to [have sex],” she insisted. “it’s really better to be safe.”
Students participated in two discussions total. After those ended, moderators presented their findings, and the solutions the groups came up with. “One problem was the peer pressure to have sex,” said Boseman. “And a possible solution was to have more open dialogue about it in the school system. For stress and mental health, a couple of ideas were to do yoga, and make sure you have personal time for yourself.”
“These are students who care about their city and county,” said Roach. “They wanted to be different; they wanted to do something meaningful.”
“I feel that teens are very overlooked,” said Boseman. “Many have mental health problems. Many feel like they aren’t wanted, and [they] want to be heard. We wanted to speak on things that aren’t offered to some kids; [things] that they may find hard to talk about.”