The Power of Sharing Your Perspective
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Kamri is a 17-year-old from Baltimore, Maryland. She is an involved member of HeartSmiles, an organization that serves at-risk youth in Baltimore. She was one of the attendees and presenters at the virtual All Youth Connecting Conference 2020, which focused on how to best serve opportunity youth – those 16-24 who are out of school and out of work. The All Youth Connecting Conference is important because it gives practitioners and supervisors a chance to look into the youth’s mind, explaining what currently works and what needs to change to provide a more operational world.
Tell us about yourself and your community.
Hello to everyone reading this! My name is Kamri. I’m 17 years old and I am the creator of KRSmoothies, a mobile smoothie business which works to improve the health of its customers. I’m from Baltimore, Maryland which is a city that most people first think of poverty, homicides, and violence, but in reality there is way more here. I love love love to help people in any way possible and that’s why I’m so connected with HeartSmiles, a Baltimore based organization serving youth. All dedicated youth involved with HeartSmiles are called Heartbeats. The organization is about helping people especially within your own community. We have the ability to make people’s hearts smile in a place where it doesn’t always seem like you can.
What was it like preparing and presenting at the conference? Any big takeaways?
I attended the All Youth Connecting Conference (AYCC) with the goal of guiding a research agenda on engaging youth who would be labeled disconnected or opportunity youth. John Neale and I were asked to present by HeartSmiles and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on behalf of our peers who would be considered disconnected. Being called to do this caused me to be a little nervous because this was a big task to be completed and it was my first time having a large conference audience of researchers, practitioners, and other youth and also not much time in order to execute, just a couple weeks! I really wanted people to hear us and understand our perspective as black youth from Baltimore. I know I had to be a great representation of everything that I stand for and that made me work ten times harder than if I would have had more time. Ms. Joni Holifield, the creator of HeartSmiles, Ms. Morgan Prioleau, a HeartSmiles mentor, John, an official Heartbeat, and I did a practice run which made me extremely nervous because I definitely felt the heat due to Ms. Joni’s high expectations. She had a lot on the line since HeartSmiles is a brand name that definitely rings bells. Also, if I didn’t do what I was supposed to, I knew to expect Ms. Joni would hold me accountable. Our first practice run was HORRIBLE! We weren’t really prepared since it was an on the spot run through. We had no knowledge whatsoever about what we wanted the focus of our presentation to be but we received feedback which we used in order to better our performance and speak to the audience.
At the actual AYCC, I felt like the audience was amazed that we could speak so well and get our message across. This surprised me that so many people were shocked at us being there and running the presentation. People were saying “best presentation at the conference,” “wow, you really know your stuff,” and more. As a youth, we have a lot of experiences and interesting perspectives that can provide influence to important decisions that adults are making on our behalf. I also found it surprising that we were one of the very few presentations at the conference that involved youth, and possibly the only presentation that was completely youth led. People, specifically adults, need to go to the source and involve youth in these discussions. My advice to practitioners and researchers is come to us, the youth, and let us enlighten you on the issues youth face and what supports we need.
How did you feel after the conference?
After the conference was over, I felt a sense of relief. I felt we accomplished our goal of showing the audience that youth should not be labeled into categories based on the opportunities they are given and youth need to be engaged more in decision making. I felt that I succeeded because everyone was proud of us and we kept our audience engaged. Although we felt accomplished, I think there is still room for improvement for adults to understand youth issues. I hope the audience took away that their role going forward is to be leaders that have a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Involving youth will help them learn, grow, and advance their work to be more impactful.
Also, HeartSmiles hosted a watch party for staff and Heartbeats that was held in order to provide support to John and I in this great leadership position as the presenters at a national conference. I didn’t think my peers would be so excited to listen and support us, so to have everyone watching and cheering was amazing. HeartSmiles is my family, but every time they support me, I’m overwhelmed with joy.
What tips of advice would you give to other people, especially youth, that will present in a virtual conference?
I would tell other youth presenting at virtual conferences that it is okay to be nervous but don’t let that nervousness overcome you and deter from your success. We are strong speakers and strong leaders and we need to show everyone. Oftentimes we are not given the opportunity to speak to adults about the issues we face, so sometimes we as youth have to do it ourselves and my advice would be:
- Affirm yourself that you are going to bring your best energy and be your best self, because then you will really be able to get your point across.
- Psych yourself out -change the space you are in- pretend that it is just you and your peers in the room.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, a lot of times you think you know everything, but take these opportunities to learn and become stronger by asking for help.
- Be confident, you can do this!