By Nora Firestone
“After he hit me, he told me he loved me.” Monika Charleston said to her peers.
If the 16-year-old’s story helped just one person – especially her sister, Michyla, 9 – her participation in the annual teen forum was worth it.
Monika’s a member of Teens With a Purpose, or TWP, a group of Hampton Roads youths and adults who promote healthy thinking, positive action and dignity within up-and-coming generations.
Monika recalled being 13, a Bayside Middle School student. Her then-boyfriend, almost 17, expected her to do things she didn’t want to do, she told the group.
“I had to completely cut him off,” she said.”I’d see him around, but I just had to walk away. I have learned to say, ‘No.’ ”
Raised without her father, or any positive male influence, “I didn’t have anybody to tell me, ‘This is what a man should treat you like,’ ” she explained.
Now a sophomore at Landstown High School, the Rock Creek resident understands the difference between fear and love, between sex and love, between self-sabotage and self-respect.
Partnered with AIDS Care Center for Education & Support Services, or ACCESS AIDS Care, Teens With a Purpose educates youth primarily about sexually transmitted diseases, and raises awareness about other issues such as gang and domestic violence, drug abuse and the realities of teen pregnancy.
The group encourages abstinence and strives to empower individuals by enhancing personal skills which enable them to recognize and address destructive patterns and make wise choices.
“The goal is for community change,” said Irma Hinkle, program director at ACCESS AIDS Care. “We want to have an impact on the social norms of our young people within Hampton Roads.”
Throughout the year, the group hosts educational forums and events such as “Second Saturdays” – a monthly open-mic venue for self-expression through readings and song.
Members range in age from 12 to 24 and are trained to help organize, facilitate and mentor.
About 70 attended the Nov. 8 CQ forum, called “Starting Over, I am Changing!” held at the Virginia Beach Central Library. The four-hour event featured skits, games, role-playing, food and open discussion.
A panel of 11 included health professionals and young role models.
Music producer Jason “Jaskizzal” Skinner, of Newport News, denounced his former life of violence, drugs and negative music.
He urged parents to be strong and watchful, and not to support destructive music.
“If artists aren’t selling, they’re going to change their tune,” he said.
Justin Taylor, 16, of Chesapeake said the speakers had an impact. Though he’s being raised “with a lot of love, a mom who listens and family outings,” he can apply their advice to tough social situations.
But most profound may have been the quiet testimony of young Michyla, who hugged her sister in silence until the two had shared a cry for the past – in honor of the future.