Central Louisiana students attended The Rapides Foundation’s Youth Summit on Healthy Behaviors, an annual event where participants learn how to become advocates for healthy choices and policy change in their schools and communities.
For the first time in its 10-year history, the summit was held virtually and broken into six different sessions during the month of October. This allowed students to participate from their home schools while interacting with speakers and other participants via Zoom.
New Orleans native, hip-hop artist and motivational speaker Dee-1 opened the sessions, setting the tone by delivering an inspirational keynote that used his life experiences to talk about why he chose a path of healthy behaviors.
“I made a decision that I was going to spend my whole life trying to help people and spend my whole life trying to spread more love and positivity in this world that we live in. But I didn’t just make that decision real easy. I saw a lot and I’ve been through a lot, and after being exposed to so much at an early age, it made me make that decision,” he said.
Dee-1 described how he saw his best friend change in middle school, starting with smoking weed before classes. By high school, the friend was involved in criminal activity that resulted in his murder. Dee-1 also saw the negative effects of alcohol and cigarettes at a young age.
“I knew that I had a purpose that was greater than ‘let’s smoke weed before school and get high.’ I had goals; I had big dreams.” As an adult, he continues that philosophy. “I have never smoked weed in my whole life, and I’m a rapper. People still try to tempt me but because I know what my goals are, I ask myself, is this going to get me closer to my purpose or pull me further away from my purpose?”
Dee-1 chose a path of healthy behaviors that includes avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, eating healthy foods and being active through basketball, tennis, hiking, running and other activities. “We have to make time, at least 30 minutes a day, to be active. I need y’all to stay active.”
Almost 600 students and teachers attended the Youth Summit events, participating from their home schools in classrooms, auditoriums or gyms. Fiftyfour schools took part in the Summit, which included Dee-1’s keynote, three sessions, lunch and screen breaks.
The Youth Summit on Healthy Behaviors is an event for teachers and students participating in The Rapides Foundation’s Healthy Behaviors School District Partnership Grant to learn about creating healthy changes at school. Participating parishes were Allen, Avoyelles, Catahoula, Grant, Natchitoches, Rapides, Vernon and Winn.
One of the goals of the summit is to increase students’ knowledge of healthy eating and active living, substance and alcohol abuse prevention, and tobacco prevention and control. In addition, the Summit is intended to present students with healthy strategies they can use in their schools and communities.
The speakers touched on the dangers of tobacco, vaping, drug use and other unhealthy activities, but each session had students brainstorm ideas for advocating healthy behaviors in their schools.
Taylor Reine, Youth Prevention Manager for WellAhead Louisiana’s Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program, led the Tobacco Prevention session, which provided education and resources on evidence-based strategies to reduce youth use of tobacco products, including vaping. Activities included time for planning Take Down Tobacco Day events that will take place in the spring and reporting out to the group.
The Healthy Eating and Active Living session was headed by Jessica Shirley, a certified personal trainer, health coach, and group fitness instructor through the American Council on Exercise, who shared the benefits of healthy eating and active living. Activities during the session included brainstorming about their Healthy Eating and Active Living event that will take place in the fall and talking about how to advocate for change at school. Shirley also led exercise breaks during the Summit.
Nigel Wrangham, who has been active in the fields of substance abuse treatment, prevention, and youth empowerment for over 20 years, led the session on Substance and Alcohol Abuse Prevention, delivering a message of positivity, engagement and inspiration. Wrangham also facilitated an action planning session, where students discussed strategies to implement healthy changes in their schools. Activities included brainstorming a health issue at school, identifying its risk factors and coming up with long-, medium- and short-term goals for change.
In previous years, the Youth Summit was held in Alexandria, where hundreds of students and teachers would spend one day attending workshops, taking group energizer breaks and gathering for a healthy lunch and snacks. Because this year’s event was held virtually, materials such as T-shirts, water bottles and Summit folders were delivered to schools, and schools had the option of having healthy lunches delivered or prepared by school nutrition staff.