200 Pine Belt students met today at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg to discuss the dangers of tobacco use. It's all part of the L.E.A.D. Conference set up by the Mississippi Department of Health. Dena Pope helps coordinate the event every year. She said, "The purpose of the conference is to equip students with the tools needed to create positive change within their community. Specifically, change related to reducing youth tobacco use."
The conference included workshops, lectures, and featured keynote speaker, youth advocate and entertainer, Javier Sanchez, who used his love for comedy and hip hop music to motivate the students. He said, "We also use that entertainment to educate, empower, and activate, and that's the key, is the activation part. We want them to not just be entertained, and inspired for this moment, we want them to do something with that inspiration."
One student said the biggest surprise for her was learning that people her age are the target market for big tobacco companies. Destiny Odom, an 11th grader from Wayne County High School, says the information at the conference motivates her reach out to other communities and warn them about the dangers of tobacco use.
Odom said, "This is the stuff that I can not only take back to my high school, but I can take it to college with me when I graduate and I can teach my kids, and they can teach their kids."