What were five Homer teenagers doing awake at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning you ask? Making their way to Lead On!, a conference hosted by Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in Anchorage to teach teenagers to find and project their voices to make a difference in their community.
Thanks to generous support of Enstar; Homer’s Jeans; Homer United Methodist Church and Sharon Whytal, Homer’s Zoe Story, Hailey Hughes, Jonas Noomah and Sierra Moskios of PHAT (Promoting Health Among Teens), and Lilli Johnson and Lauren Cardwell, each from Homer, attended Lead On! along with representatives from 26 other Alaska communities on Nov. 16-18.
More than 120 youth and adults turned out, not including the special guests Destiny Arts of Oakland, Calif., and Brave New Alaskan Voices (BNAV) from Anchorage. Destiny Arts uses performing arts as a tool for community transformation, trying to end isolation and violence among teens; BNAV focuses on empowering youth to find and use their voice using spoken word poetry.
The two guest groups along with 15 others gave a total of 26 presentations to teach teens tools for developing or improving their leadership skills. A big focus of this conference was spoken word: poetry written in order to be performed. Spoken word was taught as a coping skill for youth to identify and express their true feelings through art, and as a way to be a youth leader.
The Homer PHAT team was one of five youth presenters conducting a workshop on bullying and suicide prevention. The workshop included the 100-percent Homer-created short film “Break the Silence,” which highlights suicide warning signs, informs people how to be an ally to anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts and tells of local Homer resources.
One theme at the conference was taking action. Three planning sessions were held for individual communities to brainstorm and select a problem to address in their hometowns
The Homer group identified a priority problem among teens as stress, anxiety, depression (SAD), and the negative coping skills associated with SAD, such as self-harm and substance abuse. Now the team will continue to plan, hoping to host multiple workshops on positive and productive coping skills through the arts. The end product will be an art show this spring that will include any and all participants’ performance or piece of art to display what they learned. Keep your eyes open for more information.
Another theme at the conference was pride in Alaska’s Native heritage and strengths in Alaska Native communities. The Alaska Native Heritage Center hosted one of the three days, including a workshop on Alaska Native games such as leg wrestling, high jump and the one-legged high jump. Lunchtime consisted of more than just food as teens and adults attempted to be equal in grace and agility to the youth instructor.
The conference opened with a performance by the Napaskiak dancers showing their passion and dedication for their Yup’ik culture through song and dance. Throughout the conference this group continued to perform, including not only cultural art, but also comedic art as they adapted traditional songs to modern subjects.
Lead On! is an annual event that Homer rediscovered this year after participating in 2009 and hopes to participate in for many years to come. Coach Free, an Anchorage poet from Brave New Alaskan Voices, said “every voice counts,” which is a valuable lesson that six Homer teenagers can now share with this community, Lead On! was definitely worth the 5 a.m. wake-up call.
Lauren Cardwell is an eighth-grade student and the media liaison for Homer Middle School.