Youth conference empowers local teens

by Shawn Nowlin

Conference – from left, Charnika Elliott, Natasha Saunders, Eboni Harrington, Christina Sapp, and Brandon McCall at the YOU-TH-1 Conference held at Villa Heights Baptist Church, July 15, 2023.

Equipping Roanoke youth with the resources they need to succeed in life requires a continual community effort. So many adults are doing their part to ensure that the next generation is ready to make a seamless transition into adulthood when that time arrives.

Eboni Harrington, a Norfolk State University graduate, is certainly a role model in the community.  

The first female African American to win Roanoke City Public Schools Teacher of the Year, Harrington served as keynote speaker at this year’s YOU-TH-1 Conference inside Villa Heights Baptist Church on Challenger Avenue. Made possible by the New Harvest Family Workshop Center, approximately 100 teens from all over the city participated in the July 15 event.

LeMajor Hill, Evangelist Genita Trusclair, Pastor Micheal Bibby, Minister AJ Johnson, Cynthia Brooks, Natasha Saunders, Mariah Kelly, and Brandon McCall, all served as session leaders.

Teens were encouraged to ask questions and open up about any struggles they may be experiencing. Getting an opportunity to speak freely without judgment in the presence of caring adults doesn’t happen every day.

Monica Webster, a mother of three, wishes such gatherings existed when she was growing up. “So many of the mistakes I made in high school were because most of my relationships were transactional. I thought to be accepted meant I had to impress my peers who were always in my ear. Because I went through that life phase, I can impart a lot of wisdom to my children,” she said.

Just 19 years ago, McCall was the same age as the youth he worked with at the conference. No stranger to working with young people, one thing he regularly emphasizes is that no one achieves greatness solely by themselves.

“I was asked to work with the young Black males. It was about 20 of them, and they were all very receptive. My session was about discipline over procrastination. I shared some personal stories and then opened up the floor for them to share whatever they were comfortable with. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it,” McCall said.  

He added, “I think it’s all about planting seeds and making sure you continue to water them. Whatever is properly planted and carefully attended to usually grows. If you think about it, that can go both ways. Simply using words to tell a story isn’t good enough. Young people are a lot smarter than they are given credit for. To truly make a difference in a student’s life, you have to live what you say.”  

Event organizers want parents to know that no Roanoke student between the ages of 11-18 is ever turned away from the conference. For more information, visit