First Teen Summit RVA event brings together hundreds of students

Published: Mar. 18, 2023 at 7:14 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) -Hundreds of students across the Metro Richmond region were selected to be part of the first-ever Teen Summit RVA.

The event aimed to bring teens together to discuss several topics, highlighting issues they face daily, like mental health and drug use. One of the event organizers, Monica Smith-Callahan, said this event is a necessity.

”We saw that things happening with our young people were exasperated due to COVID, coming back off the pandemic, social isolation, our suicides were up, suicide assessments were up, occurrences were taking place in our schools, what was playing out in the media with our young people we just knew that we needed to do something as a region,” Smith-Callahan said.

Planning for the event began in fall of 2022, bringing together county leaders from Henrico, Chesterfield, and Richmond to figure out how they could connect teens across the region. The event included breakout experiences where students sat in rooms and had open discussions about different topics facilitated by panelists. Students also had the opportunity to express themselves through art and record their opinions about social issues for a podcast.

”I know for a lot of people through art or music or theater anything like that, they express their emotions that way, and it’s a very healthy form of expression that way and a very good way to cope,” explained student Raheema Perwez.

One big topic addressed at the summit was gun violence and school safety. Many students have been impacted by those issues directly, like Richmond Public Schools students who had four classmates shot last weekend or Henrico Public Schools, where several students have brought guns to school in the past few months.

”I’m fortunate to go to a school where these things are talked about, and there’s not a lot of stigma around it we have conversations within class talking about how our family members or how students around us may be going through something closely affected by gun violence,” said student Marie Lofty.

The Teen Summit will be held annually. Other events and meetings will continue to be held throughout the year to keep the conversation going. Event leaders plan to grow the experience and involve other school systems like Petersburg and Hopewell.