Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hartford Teens Participate in Second Annual SADD Conference

"I tell 'em life ain't forever, but they say--"
"I tell 'em put down the drugs, but they say--"
"I tell 'em get an education, but they say--"
"Whatever! W-W-Whatever, W-W-Whatever!" echoed through Hartford's Lyceum during Connecticut's second annual Students Against Destructive Decisions (
SADD) youth leadership conference, on Monday.

Dr. Rani Whitfield "Tha Hip Hop Doc" or "
H2D" uses hip hop culture to further his message on health while bringing positivity to the hip hop genre by promoting healthy lifestyles.

Callie_Hagemeister.jpg[Caption: "He was funny and at first it seemed contradicting. You wouldn't think a doctor would rap, but he did," said 10th grader Callie Hagemeister (center) from Westbrook's SADD chapter. Photo by Colleen Kopp.]

Tha Hip Hop Doc's talk was part of an all-day line-up starting with a talk by Lieutenant Anthony Cuozzo on the importance of leadership. Projects designing 'inner heroes' followed and a lesson in understanding alcohol marketing tactics. The teenagers also participated in a discussion about conflict resolution and understanding cultural differences. They were also given a talk about how the brain develops, along with other break-out groups and workshops.

The workshop on stereotypes and cultural differences had an impact on Lisa DeCrescente, an 11th grader from Hamden High School. She said the students sat in two rows facing each other and were encouraged to ask deep questions and break past first impressions.

"It made us dig deeper and get to know people instead of just how they look," De Crescente said. "It was eye-opening as we were able to get past the appearance and the surface."

For Sarah Boiano, an 8th grader from FOCUS, a group of teenagers from Ashford, Mansfield and Willington, the alcohol marketing talk and what she learned about malt beverages had a large impact on her.

"We learned that those kind of drinks should be considered 'distilled spirits' and we hope to get them out of grocery stores," Boiano said.

Boiano's adviser Jen O'Neill said FOCUS, which is under a tri-town coalition against underage drinking, is a small group with big ideas. She plans to help FOCUS raise more awareness about what kind of alcohol is sold in grocery stores.

Ninety-three teenagers from 22 SADD chapters and youth groups in Connecticut attended the conference.

Governor's Prevention Partnership supports SADD in its mission 'to keep Connecticut's youth safe, successful and drug-free.' Each chapter holds their own fundraisers and events as well.

Projects.jpg[Caption: Conference projects included designing ideal leaders - with a "Nose to sniff out trouble." "Brain and strong mind to think independently about the decisions we make." "Hands to help those in need." Photo by Colleen Kopp.]

Catherine LeVasseur, program manager for the Governor's Prevention Partnership and SADD State Coordinator, has been involved with SADD since she was 13.

"I've been doing this for half my life," LeVasseur said, "helping promote healthy decisions, and hoping to change the climate in these kids' schools. I'm 36 26 now, and it still feels amazing."

After his varied talk on health with free-style rapping and a hip hop love song mixed throughout, Tha Hip Hop Doc said, "If the kids take home one thing, I want them to know that health is their most important possession. If I wake up in the morning and all I have is my health, I know I'm okay."

As Deborah Stewart, director of Youth Development Training and Resource Center in New Haven, walked to her car after the conference, she said: "Parents are ignoring or dismissing underage drinking, thinking it's a teenager's rite of passage. Now as we learn that the brain is still developing into the mid-to-late 20's and the allure of drinking is magnified by technology, we face new challenges as parents. And we cannot just say 'whatever.'"