The Leon County Health Department along with Florida A&M University’s School of Allied Health Sciences hosted the 12th annual 2018 Students Working Against Tobacco leadership summit on Feb. 22 in the Allied Health building.
SWAT is a united movement of empowered youth working against a tobacco free future. The program is a nationwide initiative for students in middle and high school to join voluntarily as an extracurricular activity.
In Leon County, SWAT’s focus lies heavily on building strong leadership skills among the youth and emphasizing the local impact students can make on a national issue.
Crystall Robinson, who helped coordinate the conference, is a lead for the Leon County branch of SWAT. As a health educator, Robinson hoped that the conference would empower students to make informed decisions about tobacco.
“We are empowering the youth, giving them the skills and tools they need in order to make decisions whether to smoke or not. We want them to be able to make that decision without someone, such as big tobacco companies who have an agenda, making that decision for them,” Robinson said.
“My goal and my role for this program aligns with everything that I believe in, helping students understand that they have a voice that they can use and knowing they will be heard.”
The focus of the summit this year was to provide students with the necessary tools to better advocate for the cause of working against tobacco within the community. The main discussion was centered around how to reduce point of sale advertising for tobacco products. After completion of the summit, students were encouraged to execute these skills within the community.
“It’s more than awareness, we are trying to change something,” Michelle Bono, facilitator and influential speaker of the summit said. “A student mentioned today, ‘you helped us get our voice. We had to learn where to find our voice and how to share our story.’”
Alexis Probst, a student from Montford Middle School, said that a lot of people in her family smokes including her father and grandfather, but she believes SWAT gives her a chance to help them.
“SWAT to me means help and that there is a chance,” Probst said. “Today taught me that I really can make a difference if I put my heart to it and imagined all the people I could save.”
The conference had separate sections for the high school students and middle school students, but the events were the same. The students started out with an introduction to the program, while the facilitators of the event prepared icebreaker activities to help the students get acquainted with each other.
Toward the end of the summit the students were given the opportunity to demonstrate how they would utilize their skills in real life in mounting a campaign within the community. Students were asked to write down what they would say to council members in order to get an ordinance passed, eliminating cigarette advertisement in convenience stores. Bono was impressed by the students’ responses.
“For students to feel that not only do they have an opportunity to be heard, but they have a plan of how to be heard [was the goal],” Bono said. “It just warms my heart to know that I get to help empower children to tell adults what they think is important, that is tremendously rewarding. It just warms my heart.”