Youth Voice Echoes in the State Capitol: Substance Abuse Prevention Day 2017 Recap

On February 14, seven Youth Action Teams from across the state joined prevention professionals at the State Capitol in recognition of Substance Abuse Prevention Day. On this day, attendees united under the theme “Lifting Our Voices Everywhere” (L.O.V.E.) to advocate on behalf of substance abuse prevention in the state of Georgia.

Before attending the event, Youth Action Teams prepared to speak to their legislators about topics important to youth and families in their areas. Charlotte Spell from the Bulloch Alcohol and Drug Council said that they prepared their new team, The Game Changers, by discussing the role of legislators, saying: “We talked about how they get elected and that they work for the people who live in their districts.”

Another team, Community Action for Teens, took their preparation one step further by reviewing tobacco data and materials from a local substance abuse prevention coalition. Kemeria Abdella, the group advisor, reported that the team developed talking points about the tobacco information they received: “On Substance Abuse Prevention Day, we brought the reports along with folders containing our data to distribute to our representatives and senators we spoke with.”

With a bit of preparation in the bag, teams arrived at the Capitol ready to make a difference. The kickoff, hosted by Voices for Prevention, started the morning off right with a prevention-themed photo booth, and speaker Yvonne Harvey-Williams pumped up the crowd with her passion and exuberance. Youth Action Teams also heard from prevention and advocacy experts who gave them the scoop on important information related to prevention issues in the state of Georgia. Armed with some good information as well as prevention pins and foam fingers, the teams were ready to speak to their legislators.

After traveling to the Capitol from their kickoff location, attendees had a chance to locate their legislators who were hard at work in their respective legislative chambers. Coincidentally, just as the teams were arriving, the House of Representatives adjourned for the day. As the legislators poured from the House chambers, teams eagerly looked for their local representatives in order to speak to them about prevention topics.

GUIDE Youth Advisory Board Members Dante Jones and Zabe Human were two of these young people vying to speak with their state representatives. In the midst of the chaos, they were able to speak with two of their Gwinnett legislators, Representative Buzz Brockway and Representative Sam Park. With both legislators, Dante and Zabe shared information about social host laws and how such legislation helps to hold adults liable for hosting parties for underage people. Other teams chose to speak about marijuana issues, tobacco availability and why they enjoy being prevention advocates.

After a little lunch, teams and attendees headed back to the Capitol rotunda for a prevention rally. Youth Action Teams from across the state spoke about their experiences in prevention and why it is needed in Georgia. These same youth also introduced adult speakers which included Department of Education Superintendent Richard Woods, members of the Georgia Assembly Representative Joyce Chandler, Representative Emory Dunahoo, Representative Dewayne Hill and Senator Jeff Mullis, as well as special guests Jim Langford and Special Agent Daniel Salter.

At the end of the day, teens and preventionists alike felt they had made a difference. Grace Fournier, member of the Walton County Youth Advocacy Board, said “It’s incredibly inspiring to see youth and adults who are so passionate. It’s amazing and so much fun. I look forward to seeing the evolution of the Substance Abuse Prevention Day in the future.”

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