Dare to be Different
BY HOLLY KESTENIS Staff Writer ST. PETERSBURG – Twelve teens were not afraid to strut their stuff on the catwalk in an effort to raise awareness of teen substance abuse use in Pinellas County. Some of the hottest summer fashions were showcased on the runway, but the real message of the evening was daring to be different, making a statement to just say no. So on Sat., June 29, the Garden Club of St. Petersburg, located at 500 Sunset Drive, played host to Dare to be Different Take 1, a monumental event geared at combating the local war on drugs. Hosted by LiveFree!, a Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition and the Power Broker Magazine, the event drew a hefty crowd of both participants and supporters.
The coalition was created in 2003 after state data showed that Pinellas County was one of the highest-ranking counties for drug use in Florida, particularly among teens. Pinellas County School Board Member René Flowers was mistress of ceremonies and took a moment to recognize the hard work and dedication shown not only by the teens in the community, but also to their life mentors. But Deborah Figgs-Sanders hit the nail on the head when she emphasized the event as being more than just a fashion show. “It is about making a statement,” Figgs-Sanders explained to the teens and parents in attendance. “We really need you all to understand. Just because your friends do it, doesn’t mean you have too.” Participating youths were given a blank t-shirt. The idea was for each teen to create their own artwork by focusing on the things that mean the most to them. The designs varied according to each teenager’s personal perspective on life.
Each model was able to model an outfit that meant something personal to them and spoke to their own personality. “What you saw was what it meant to them through art,” explained Flowers as she reiterated the importance of making teens feel valued in society and at home so that they will make the right decisions when faced with adversity. “Everyone has an expression. Everyone has a meaning. Everyone should be valued, and they showed their value tonight.” Flowers segued into introducing a shining star among the youth of St. Petersburg. With the title of blogger for the LiveFree! Coalition, hometown graduate Darion Bentley, now a junior at FAMU will continue his advocacy work through the written word, as well as speaking out about drug education and prevention.
“They said that no good thing comes from Nazareth, and I think sometimes people say that no good things come from Childs Park,” Flowers stated, “but I show you a jewel, Darion Bentley.” Bentley began his speech with a poem depicting how positive affirmation and confidence in one’s own abilities can make the difference between good choices and those that inevitably lead down the wrong path in life. “Her beauty was simple. It was easy. She made it look easy. She didn’t try to change, she just accepted as it was,” Bentley read, each word conveying the powerful hold self-esteem can have on a teenager. “She was simply confident. She dared to be different.” Bentley discovered LiveFree! through a partnership they hold with Boley’s Summer Youth Intern program that he was a part of. He quickly proved his worth by diving into administrative work and interacting with younger kids as he guided them to make positive choices in their lives.
Through educational opportunities involving training on the issues of teen drug and alcohol use and teen friendly events, Bentley and the staff at LiveFree! are excited about the role they play in each and every teen who walks through their door. Helping to remind everyone they have a choice. “By talking, writing, drawing or showing the latest fashions [we] spread the word about LiveFree!,” he suggested as he spoke to the crowd, “and encourage everyone to like it, learn it, love it and live free.”
Executive Director of LiveFree!, Jackie Griffin, was amazed at the night’s event and gave her appreciation to all involved. “I don’t know the names of every single person that pulled this together, but I would like to get a picture on a shirt and I want to put it out there, I want it to be for sale,” she said. “I want these youth to walk away with an idea of what it means to sustain this vision and to take it forward and to grow from it.” LiveFree!’s mission is to use different strategies and resources in an effort to reduce underage drinking and drug use in Pinellas County. By giving teenagers a safe and healthy community LiveFree! hopes to destroy the vicious cycle of substance abuse that permeates throughout Pinellas County. By involving youths, holding town hall meetings, and promoting public awareness through family fun events, LiveFree! hopes residents will be able to live safe, healthy, and drug-free lives. It all begins with believing in human potential. For more information on LiveFree! and how you can get involved, check out their website at www.pinellascoalition.com. Or interact with other members on Facebook, www.facebook.com/livefreeFL or the LiveFree! blog, www.livefreeblog.
See more photos from this event in our Photo Gallery!