By Naeisha Rose
Over the weekend, three teens from Queens who attend The Preparatory Academy for Writers in Springfield Gardens participated in the Youth Leadership Summit, an NYC Smoke-Free program by Public Health Solutions, one of the largest public health non-profits in the city.
Before attending the Nov. 10 summit, the teens spoke about why they became smoke-free advocates.
“I’m older and I know better, but I have a lot of cousins and the oldest one is in first grade,” said Princess Olu-Talabi, 17, of Rosedale. “You know how little kids are in a store and anything they see like candy — and they’re like I want this I want… it gets worrying when you see them point to something that is not candy.”
Princess’ cousins are between the ages of 4 and 6 and sometimes point to tobacco products that are fruit or cotton candy flavored, according to the youth advocate.
“I can’t abide with one of my cousins pointing to something like that and later hurting themselves,” said Princess.
Shwatina Jagnarine, 17, of Jamaica, became an advocate after watching her uncle smoke and eventually develop lung cancer.
“Even after the diagnosis he continued to smoke,” Shwatina said. “I see that for people who smoke it is an addiction and that they need professional help.”
Shwatina’s goal of attending the summit again is to learn more skills necessary to prevent other young people from smoking in the first place.
“I’m here to prevent younger generations and younger kids from ever smoking,” said Shwatina. “If we can stop it before they can ever smoke, it is much more effective than years of therapy and addiction just to stop something that they think that they need that they don’t.”
Crystal Gordon, 16, of St. Albans, is a student journalist at the prep school with a younger brother who is a student-athlete at the Academy for Writers and she wants to be his role model.
“I was reading a story [about smoking] and I started asking questions about it and it was really interesting to me,” Crystal said. “I started thinking about my younger brother…he wants to be a soccer brother and I have to teach him to maintain his health.”
At the youth summit, the advocates learn how to approach people about not smoking in a respectful way, how to debate on the topic without coming judging people about their choices, how to reach out to their local politician or other people in power either in person or by writing a letter.
“I learned about how to approach people in the most gentle way,” Shwatina said. “We have one these exercises… it teaches us how to rebuttal in a kind way.”
Shwatina hopes to use the skills she learned from the program to become a cardiologist.
“What I learned from the summit was communication and expressing my ideas clearly and concisely,” Princess said. “Don’t treat people like they are villain or evil, because no is bad and it’s not their fault. Big tobacco is using them.”
Princess wants to pursue a career in game development and wants to develop products that won’t include smoking or tobacco products in her games.
“I learned that it really takes the community to teach the next generation,” said Crystal. “The summit gives us the skills to reach out to our peers and the younger generation in order to teach them about the harmful effects of smoking.”
Crystal is considering a career in politics.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose