Sunday, November 16, 2003

Poet urges teens to 'be wonderful'

Youth conference: 500 students gather

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS - Award-winning poet Nikki Giovanni had a message for the teens of Greater Cincinnati: "Give yourself a chance to be wonderful. Give yourself a chance to be beautiful. Give yourself a chance to fly."

Nikki Giovanni was the keynote speaker at the Hamilton County Youth Conference 2003 at the University of Cincinnati.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
Giovanni was the keynote speaker Saturday at the Hamilton County Youth Conference, which brought 500 high school students from as far as Dayton.

The event, at the University of Cincinnati, is designed to bring together teens from different racial, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds.

Students are selected in advance by their schools for demonstrating leadership potential.

"If you're a student from Withrow, you don't easily have the opportunity to meet someone from, say, Ursuline unless it's at a sports event. And sports events can be negative environments," said co-director Leslie Kreines, who started the annual conference designed to boost teens' leadership skills.

"This is a positive way for them to communicate."

Giovanni, who was raised in Lincoln Heights and organized Cincinnati's first Black Arts Festival, has received 19 honorary doctorates and many awards, including Woman of the Year for Ebony, Mademoiselle and Ladies' Home Journal magazines.

Giovanni, a literature professor at Virginia Tech University, said she understands the turbulence of teen years.

"What I want to do is challenge them," she said.

"Our job is to make sure they get to tomorrow, because this is a difficult period they're going through."

The poet spoke on a wide range of topics, from the Columbia space shuttle explosion to the death of rapper Tupac Shakur to the importance of college.

After giving a standing ovation for Giovanni, the students separated for discussions run by local experts. Topics included college planning, self-defense and police relations, racial awareness and diversity.

"I wanted to come here because this will help get me ready for the future," said 16-year-old Devon Trotter of Western Hills University School. "I'm here to listen and learn."

This is the 12th year for the event.

"I've had many students come up to me and tell me this changed their lives,'' Kreines said. "They had a whole different attitude about things or they were inspired to go to college or they wanted to take a chance."

Kreines hopes the students will carry on what they learned.

"We want what happens at the conference to spill over into their daily lives," she said. "So somebody talks about what they learned, and that person takes those lessons and talks to somebody else."



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