Joy Brown, 10, stood alone in front of a crowd of nearly 400 youths Saturday, smiling anxiously as three girls walked by her and said with a sneer, “nice hair.”
The other girls then laughed while walking away.
But there were no hurt feelings - all of the girls were demonstrating social and emotional bullying, one of the issues addressed during a youth summit focused on helping young people combat common obstacles in their daily lives.
Youth groups from about 30 churches from across the state met at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge this weekend to hear speakers tackle subjects such as bullying, violence and self-image.
The Rev. Erica Jenkins of Thomas United Methodist Church said the event, organized by the African American United Methodist Pastors United for Christ, aimed to get youths talking about issues that are directly affecting them.
The session on bullying was one that many of the young attendees said they could relate to, either from being victims of bullying or seeing it frequently crop up in their schools.
“Bullying really needs to stop,” Joy said after the demonstration. “I’ve seen the news. People are committing suicide or giving up on their dreams because of bullying.”
During a rousing session on forming a positive self-image, the Rev. Elenora Cushenberry let her hair down and flung it from side to side, asking the crowd why they want to see Beyonce when they look in mirror.
“We’re not pleased with who we are,” Cushenberry said. “We need to form a healthy self-concept of our real selves. We need to say, ?I’m OK with me when I look in the mirror.’”
The themes tied together as Cushenberry told the audience that bullies can’t affect them if “you know who you are.”
Angel Fieldings, 12, of Baton Rouge, said the talks were helpful because “bullying is real.”
“It really happens to teenagers,” she said. “They talked about bystanders not knowing what to do. I know I would say something.”
Jenkins said members of the newly formed African American United Methodist Pastors United for Christ decided to focus on delivering positive messages to youths, she said.
The summit grew out of what happened when several pastors joined on a large scale to show young people how to overcome struggles through faith.
Tyler Mickens, 17, of Varnado, called the summit “inspirational.”
“It had insight into everyday life,” Mickens said. “These are things I’ve seen and dealt with personally. A lot of people don’t understand what’s happening with teenagers.”
The Rev. Arnold Brown, of Neely United Methodist Church, said the summit was needed to address issues plaguing some communities.
“All we hear about are drugs, alcohol, neglect and a death every week,” said Brown, who is Joy’s father. “We preach living right, but we felt talk was not enough. We had to make a difference.”
Brown called Saturday’s event a “phenomenal success,” describing it as the litmus test for future events. The organization is working on getting youths involved in mission outreach, he said.
“We’re planning from here,” he said.
Brown’s son, Arnold Brown Jr., 20, said with all the killings happening in the community, the summit is a step in the other direction.
“A lot’s being changed,
he said. “The church, especially the African American churches, are starting something great. They’re starting a revival.”