2,000 teens expected to attend conference

Judge Mathis to speak at Youth Explosion today

October 25, 2003|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

When Greg Mathis was a teen-ager, he dropped out of high school and was headed for trouble when a judge ordered him to obtain his high school equivalency diploma or face jail time. Today, he is a Michigan judge who is famous for his Judge Mathis television show.

Organizers of Youth Explosion 2003 hope Mathis' story will inspire Baltimore-area youths to become active in their communities and steer clear of drugs and violence. Mathis is expected to speak today at the Baltimore Convention Center.

The Urban Leadership Institute, the Mayor's Office of Children, Youth & Families, the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Safe and Sound Campaign are the event's major sponsors.

Nearly 2,000 youths ages 13 to 19 are expected to attend the free daylong workshop.

Most are from Baltimore and surrounding counties, but children are also expected from Chicago, Cleveland, San Antonio and San Francisco, said David Miller, co-founder of the Urban Leadership Institute, a consulting firm that designs programs for children and families. Miller and co-founder Lamarr Darnell Shields started Youth Explosion four years ago because they wanted young people to feel they could make a difference in their communities.

"We basically felt that there was a void in young people's lives, and that the void needed to be filled by a conference where they could gather with their peers to learn about the importance of speaking up for themselves, how to become leaders and how to be self-supportive," Shields said.

Workshop topics include civic engagement, public speaking, entrepreneurship, and career and goal setting.

Shields hopes that after the conference ends, participants will begin to focus on ways to improve their neighborhoods and communities.

"We want them to start to focus on some viable solutions to the problems they see daily," Shields said.

Past conference attendees have created after-school tutorial programs, arranged neighborhood cleanups and collected canned goods for the needy, Shields said.

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