Opa Locka, FL Recognition


Miami Herald, The (FL)
- August 15, 2008

HELEN BERGGREN, Special to The Miami Herald

Scrawling their questions on crisp, white index cards, young people from North Central Miami-Dade came seeking answers from parents and civic leaders at the 32nd annual Teen Summit.

Some of the subjects were timeless troubles to teenagers traveling the road to adulthood. "Why do parents want us to grow up so fast?"

Still other issues had a few grown-ups shaking their heads in disbelief.

"I have to go to court Aug. 28 on a charge based on burglary. They want me to go against my boyfriend. Now what do I do?"

One problem drew a few gasps from the audience.

"My boyfriend's baby-mama found out I am pregnant and she wants me to have an abortion. What should I do?"

Catching a moment to compose herself, Jannie Russell, founder of Teen Up-ward Bound, gripped the microphone.

"Everyone has someone to talk to," Russell said. "Teachers, a parent, pastor. If you don't, find an adult you can trust."

Russell pointed out some in the audience who could be counted on. Then she gave her opinion for a solution for the anonymous author.

"If we're talking about a boyfriend who has a baby mama," she said, "we can all say we made a mistake, but we don't have to keep on making bad choices."

The morning dialogue swiftly narrowed the communication gap between generations at Searching and Finding Solutions summit, held Aug. 2 at Town Center One, 780 Fisherman St.

Leading the discussion were panel members Opa-locka Mayor Joseph L. Kelley, District 103 state Rep. Oscar Braynon, WFOR-CBS 4 Shomari Stone , radio personality Big Lip Bandit, stand-up comedian Benji Brown and recording artist Stage McKlezie.

They had tough advice for the adolescents.

"A lot of people are not happy with themselves, have low self-esteem," McKlezie said.

"It starts with you," Braynon said. "Get away from all the hate and violence."

Nearly 100 participants from city Of Opa-locka or C.O.O.L. Teens, Opa-locka Youth Co-op, Teen Up-Ward Bound, the Opa-locka Community Empowerment Team and North-Dade Opa-locka Front Porch gathered for the event, which was sponsored by Opa-locka's Crime Prevention Unit, The Children's Trust, Miami-Dade County Government and the city of Miami Gardens.

Besides a lunch of roasted chicken, greens and rice, the teens received a stylish black-nylon trapezoid backpack filled with a notebook, pen and T-shirt.

"It's cool," said Verdonna Burnett, a Youth Co-op member. "Great to hold my phone and notebooks."

Soon to be a theater major at Alabama State University, Verdonna, 17, lent her talent to a skit that highlighted a common conflict teens face: whispered gossip.

"Someone told me you were talking behind my back," said Brown, as his signature radio character, Kiki.

But armed with skills from peer counseling, Verdonna was too smart to fall into a conversation trap guaranteed to end up in a fight and tried to resolve the matter.

"I know to leave the negative out of my vocabulary when I get into a situation like this," the Hialeah-Miami Lakes graduate said. "Violence is not worth it, it's better to walk away."