A group of North Carolina high school students are making strides in public health and youth advocacy, thanks to a partnership with the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and Strengthening the Black Family, a community-based organization in Raleigh.
The Youth Empowered Advocating for Health (YEAH) program incorporates high school students into the public health research process, and trains them as health advocates for their peers. The project originated with an HIV prevention and advocacy focus, but has developed into areas such as teen pregnancy and stress and obesity.
Recently, a group of YEAH youth participants presented their work at the UNC Minority Health Conference, and YEAH youth leader Marjorie Freeman introduced the conference’s keynote speaker.
“Seeing Marjorie introduce Gale Christopher was amazing,” said Alex Lightfoot, an HPDP researcher and YEAH Youth supporter. “She was just so confident and eloquent and she was funny. She did a fantastic job.”
Lightfoot, Ed.D., and Briana Woods-Jaeger, Ph.D., developed the YEAH program alongside community partners at Strengthening the Black Family four years ago.
YEAH youth participants and leaders have been trained in a number of community based participatory research techniques, and frequently use Photovoice, a photography based program used to explore health determinants among minority youth.
Lightfoot says the YEAH program acts as a catalyst for personal growth among the youth participants.
“I’ve been able to watch them grow so much as they’ve moved through the program,” she said. “It’s expanding their horizons hugely, and what they can do and how they can affect change.”
“You can see the spark in them, as they’ve presented their work at APHA and have grown into themselves. They’ve become so confident and self assured. It’s been inspiring.”
For the last three years, the YEAH youth have been able to attend and present their work at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting.
“Presenting at APHA was huge,” said DaQuandra Rankins, a YEAH youth leader. “I didn’t recognize how huge it was going to be until I got there. And each year has gotten better and better.”
Rankins has attended APHA all three years, and has traveled to New Orleans and San Francisco with to present his work with YEAH.
“I’ve been all over the United States, and I feel like I have advocated,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done my job, and what I’m supposed to do, and I’m happy.”