- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

Hundreds of teen girls and professional women gathered yesterday at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast for some good old-fashioned “Girl Talk!” a conference designed to educate young women about the importance of making wise decisions early in life.

“I really liked this — most times, people come in and give us these long lectures. They tell us about what we should do and what we shouldn’t do,” said Lorraine White, 17, a junior at Ballou who gave up her Saturday to attend. Lorraine remembered the message yesterday because the messenger “kept it real.”

The daylong event for young women brought together more than 100 Ballou students and 90 professional women for a day of mentoring, networking and laughter. A bevy of workshops and facilitators focused on topics such as teen dating violence, building self-esteem and goal setting, along with how to apply to college. Panel discussions and makeovers were also a part of the event.

Kemba Smith, who was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison because of a poor choice in a former boyfriend — a known drug dealer — was the keynote speaker. Ms. Smith was given a presidential pardon in 2000 by Bill Clinton. She served six years in prison.

“The laws that put me in federal prison are still in effect today. Just because of my affiliation with a drug dealer,” she said.

“In high school, I made the decision to go to Hampton University. And, I made some poor choices at Hampton — there were things I did wrong. I knew that I had gotten into a relationship with a guy who was dealing drugs,” Ms. Smith said.

Ms. Smith urged the group not to “be used for $500. A person doesn’t have to sell drugs on the corner. In my situation, I plead guilty and was charged with 255 keys of crack, although I never used, sold or distributed drugs,” she said.

Twelve teenage girls listened while Nicole Short Thompson role played a 15-year-old girl who had lied to her mother and found herself in a life-threatening situation with an older man, during a workshop titled, “When Protection Isn’t in the Equation.”

Ms. Thompson, 34, a counselor at Sasha Bruce Youth Works, Inc., conducted a dramatic monologue that kept her audience glued to their seats.

“I used an alternative means to convey the message of how HIV/AIDS is transmitted and spread. I talked to them as if I were their peers using their language,” said Ms. Thompson, who donned brightly colored hip-hop clothing and accessories to stay in character throughout her session. “I talked to them and with them and not at them,” she said.

In another classroom, 20 girls listened to the riveting true story of Tamika Felder, a three-year cervical cancer survivor who had contracted the human papillomavirus. Ms. Felder, 28, a member of the President’s Cancer Panel stressed the importance of annual visits to the gynecologist. HPV, an insidious and silent killer, robbed her of the ability to have what she really longed for — a family and children.

“The point of me telling you this is I’m an educated woman and I’ve never been out in the street — the dirty little secret is HPV. Ninety-eight percent of cervical cancer is caused by HPV. It’s the No. 1 STD in the world. And, there’s no cure for HPV,” Ms. Felder said as the students looked on in stunned disbelief.

Students and mentors also dined together and enjoyed an etiquette course during a three-course meal served with linen and elegant stemware. Fannie Allen, director of the Allen Etiquette Institute in Arlington, offered tips on how to be seated at a table, and how to follow your host’s lead by staying within an appropriate price range when ordering a meal.

“Etiquette and protocol is a way to build personal relationships with teachers in school and in the workplace. The way in which you conduct yourself will invite people into your lives,” Ms. Allen said.

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