The Cobb United for Change Coalition, which is composed of several community groups who promote racial understanding, presented an all-day event Tuesday at the South Cobb Recreation Center off Six Flags Drive in south Cobb.
Before the weather turned rainy and cold Tuesday morning, the social and economic justice youth summit was supposed to include a rally and march to “STOP The Violence.”
The theme is tied to ongoing efforts for justice surrounding the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American from Florida who was fatally shot following an altercation with George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. In July, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and of manslaughter charges.
Richard Pellegrino, a member and collaborator for several advocacy organizations, including director of the Cobb Immigrant Alliance, said Tuesday’s event was part of continuing activities, but this was the first focused on the youth.
“This is to be youth-led, to empower youth, with guidance,” Pellegrino said.
The purpose of Tuesday’s gathering was to discuss how area youth view justice and injustice.
One of Pellegrino’s eight children, Rubiyyih Pellegrino, 15, said the youth can relate to Martin’s story because he was just a kid like many of them.
Rubiyyih Pellegrino said fellow students came to her school crying after Martin’s death.
“I am a mixed girl, so I get scared, too,” Rubiyyih Pellegrino said.
A young man’s dream
Jamal Thomas, 18, who attends Sprayberry High School in Marietta, said he does not walk alone at night or let friends venture out by themselves at night.
As a youth leader for the Cobb Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Thomas said he will be giving a speech with many others at Emmanuel Tabernacle Christian Church in Marietta this January.
The participants will deliver speeches about their personal dreams, through their unique way of telling them.
“(The speeches) tell about the dream you really want to have,” Thomas said.
Thomas said his dream is to become a visual artist. When sketching a picture, Thomas said, “I draw the community first…You should think about what is around you, not just yourself.”
One leader at Tuesday’s event, Lourdes Aguilar, 18, said she is available to speak with the teenagers and youth no matter what the issue, whether it is to give advice or just have someone to talk to.
The biggest topic is bullying, with young kids telling her, “Someone is trying to fight me,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar said kids feel judged for the way they dress or the way they look, but she tells those being victimized to be the bigger person, walk away, and find a trusted person to alert about the problem.
Aguilar admitted she was a bully in the past, and that is why she knows what an aggressive person is capable of.
Now a year behind in South Cobb High School in Austell, after being mixed up in trouble, Aguilar said, “I am really lucky to be alive right now.”
Aguilar said she also knows young people who have killed themselves because of bullying.
“I want to be an advocate for children,” Aguilar said.
The power of words
Pat Kramer, of Powder Springs, who joined the coalition a couple months ago, is an author of self-esteem books and led the youth Tuesday morning in partner exercises.
The exercises were meant to demonstrate how positive or negative words can have an effect on the physical body.
“How you feel about yourself is powerful,” Kramer said.
Standing with an arm extended, one partner said, “I am good, I am smart, I am funny,” while another person tried to push the arm down. The extended arm stayed much firmer with the positive affirmations.
Alexus Means, 15, who became the youngest ever Atlanta NAACP Youth Council president at 13 years old, also spoke to the young group.
Means commended the students for being leaders, who are examples to other kids in the community.
Means told the engaged youngsters that the keys to changing a situation are activism and education, instead of staying at home and complaining about the situation.
“We must engage,” Means said, while the other 40 kids chanted the words back to her.