Talk About It!
About Talk About It!: This program, run by the Mt. Zion Full Gospel Baptist Church, organizes events at which youths – usually about 150 of them – ask questions about a plethora of issues, with police officers, rape crisis counselors, victim advocates, doctors and other experts helping to provide answers. The youths speak at a podium or write their questions anonymously. The events occur at the local library and nearby cafes.
Her Job: Carson and fellow Co-Director Vanessa Mills market the events by word of mouth, through local radio stations and by distributing letters to church-goers. They recruit community leaders to help answer questions, set up the venue and oversee the event.
Best Part of the Job: Before starting the program, Carson was unsatisfied with the youth outreach conducted by area churches. She is more confident with Talk About It! “I know it is helping. No one was negative” about the events. “All I got was positive feedback.”
Worst Part of the Job: “Some of the children who write these questions walk out and don’t ask for help. Because of confidentiality, counselors we connect with can’t share who comes to them.”
Inspiration: Carson and Mills, who both attend Mt. Zion, were jolted into starting the program after police found, within one week, the bodies of two local girls who had been murdered. One murder is unsolved, and the other involved an abusive relationship.
“She was a 16-year-old who was a local cheerleader, who had been in an intimate relationship with someone who ended up marrying a woman who didn’t like her, and the whole jealousy thing started up. … The woman and the husband stabbed her and threw her in the river.”
What’s on Youths’ Minds: “Most of the questions deal with sexual assaults and date rape. We had the executive director of Safe Homes-Rape Crisis Coalition walk the audience through the examination” of assault victims and explain where to go for help. “We also had with us the two investigators who would be there with them, and we said how to get more information, how to press charges. We told them not to be scared to report assault, because there are programs” to help victims.
Memorable Moment: “The most recent event was running over the time allotted, but the monitor on the microphone told me, ‘I think there is one we need to address.’ It was, ‘The person who is molesting me lives in the same house as me, and I don’t want to go home. What can I do?’
“I just broke down into tears. That made the event real. Once I composed myself, the police officer who was on the panel, another youth pastor who was on the panel and I just made a general announcement that whoever [asked the question] could come up to one of the three of us. The counselor could not tell me whether the person spoke to them.”
Attracting Youths: “The whole program is an outreach tool for my church, an outreach tool for the young to come to open up.”
Other Benefits: In addition to professionals going to events, several youth pastors attend. The two groups connected quickly, Carson says, and now church leaders get educated by local experts about how to help victims report sexual assault.