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Summit gives students civic engagement lesson

The brothers and sisters of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity’s Delta Pi Lambda chapter and Delta Sigma Theta sorority’s Selma Alumnae chapter held their inaugural Civic Engagement Teen Summit Friday morning at Selma High School, versing students in the finer points of American civics.

“We walked about a myriad of engaging topics,” said Robert Stewart, Civic Engagement Chair for Delta Pi Lambda and Black Belt Region Outreach Coordinator for U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL. “The main point of the program was to walk out with a sense of social responsibility and a commitment to their community. I am hopeful for the prosperity of our community.”

According to Stewart, the event was formatted like a town hall event – students approached the microphone, introduced themselves and asked questions related to the electoral process, the legislative process and everything between and beyond the two.

Among the speakers at the event was author, documentarian and activist William Waheed, who Stewart called a “master teacher” and “expert on the Voting Rights Movement in Selma.”

Waheed discussed the significance of the 100th anniversary of the Voting Rights Movement in Selma, which began in 1920, and talked about how Selma’s youth are the “progeny” of that movement.

Stewart, alongside Delta Sigma Theta Social Action Chair and Legal Services Alabama (LSA) attorney Elizabeth Hollie also addressed the students, with a special focus on what they would like to see happen within their community.

“I was taken aback and impressed [with] how organic the conversation was and the feedback and the concerns of these young scholars,” Hollie said.

Stewart said he was impressed with the “breadth of knowledge” the students had on issues of civics, particularly a group of sixth-grade students from School of Discovery (SOD) Genesis Center and noted that many of the students voiced poignant concerns related to Selma – a young lady discussed the need for healthier, affordable food options in the area; a young man discussed the need to tackle bullying and suicide.

“The young people here in Selma are particularly taking an interest in what’s happening locally here in Selma,” said Delta Pi Lambda President Billy Young. “They’re paying attention to what’s going on locally in their city. You can tell that they want some positive changes here in the community.”

Stewart noted that “2020 Vision” was the center of discussion when students began vocalizing their thoughts on what changes need to take place locally.

“The tie that binds community improvement is civic engagement,” Stewart said. “That’s how we go about seeing those changes.”

Also on hand for the event was U.S. Census representative Collins Pettaway III, who discussed the importance of being counted in the upcoming census for the allocation of federal resources and representation.

While Stewart lamented the fact that civics is not as central to modern education as it once was, he still walked away impressed with the level of knowledge Selma students have been able to collect on their own.

“Civics is not always stressed, it’s not as prevalent in the curriculum as it once was,” Stewart said. “The fact that they were able to seek out this knowledge, the fact that they access technology to keep them informed…I marvel at what these young scholars know.”

While Friday’s summit was the first for the two organizations, Young noted that both groups have a multi-county coverage area and are planning to extend their civic engagement efforts beyond Selma in the future.

“We definitely want to see this replicated,” Young said.

Additionally, Young noted that Alpha Phi Alpha National President Dr. Everett Ward, who contacted the local chapter after reading a story in The Selma Times-Journal previewing the event, expressed an interest in replicating the program across the country.