The Impact team after one of their peer-to-peer educational events. Front row, L to R: Kalese Howse, Zephaniah Johnson, John Franklin, Joy Madabomwu, Back Row: Marlon Motley, Jay Xaviare Jackson, Bernadette Williams, and Marshun Redmond.
F or most teens, an after-school job means flipping burgers, working as a clerk at the mall or babysitting — good, solid work. But for 10 dedicated teens working for Girls, Inc. of Memphis, it means good work with a purpose — teaching their peers the hard truths about infant mortality. The hope is that more knowledge will help reduce this tragic loss in Memphis.
While the subject is tough, educating other teens is vital. “With this, I feel like I can make a difference,” says Marlin Motley, a senior at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering.
Motley and nine other students from schools across Memphis are part of IMPACT or Infant Mortality Public Awareness Campaign for Tennessee, a program that partners with Girls Inc. of Memphis.
IMPACT was started in 2007 by the Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination as one of a series of initiatives to reduce the infant mortality crisis-level rates in the state.
The teen-led program has four main components: advocacy, public service announcements, youth skill development, and peer-to-peer education. To that end, the teens have visited with lawmakers in Nashville to learn what’s happening legislatively on infant mortality, they’ve posted public service announcements on YouTube and Facebook, and have spoken publicly to young people at church groups and health fairs.
Funded by a $165,000 grant from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, the program covers three Tennessee locations: Girls, Inc. of Memphis, Girls, Inc. of Chattanooga, and the Oasis Center in Nashville. Teens earn minimum wage, working a minimum of four hours a week and often volunteering their time, said Loretta McNary, IMPACT project coordinator. In its first year in Memphis, the program has reached more than 1,200 people, according to McNary.
On a November evening at the Hickory Hill Missionary Baptist Church, youth director Alicia Denton invited the IMPACT team to present at their church. The teens began their program by asking their listeners to take a three-page test, which gauges the audience’s knowledge of infant mortality.
Next, the team presented a skit, which they wrote and directed themselves, and then followed up with the same questionnaire to demonstrate how much the audience learned.
The IMPACT teens carry an arsenal of information about infant mortality that they impart to their audience. For instance, a pregnant mother should take 400 mcgs of folic acid daily, a low-birth weight baby weighs less than 5 lbs. 8 ounces at birth, or that the Tennessee infant mortality rate is 12.8 per 1,000 live births. But the segment of their presentation they noticeably enjoy the most is acting out their skit.
At the Hickory Hill MB Church, their skit, entitled “Death of a Champion,” told the fictional story of a high-school senior, ready to enter college on a basketball scholarship when she discovers she’s five months pregnant. The actors pepper their play with a few humorous details, like when the father of the baby drives to the mother’s house and his friends tell him to “crank the bass up.” He pretends the car radio is blaring, making the car jump. The scene elicits many giggles from the audience. But the last scene, where the father pretends to shake his baby, visibly upsets some audience members; one girl even says she doesn’t feel well and gets up to leave. The skit is both entertaining and powerful.
Girls, Inc. president Deborah Hester-Harrison believes it’s a good way to educate. “You have to get these kids engaged in hopes that they are learning.”
While a primary goal of Girls, Inc. is to prevent teen pregnancy in the first place, the program begs the question of why talk to teens about having a healthy pregnancy.
“The reality is that kids are having kids,” says Hester-Harrison. “If they get pregnant, we want them to have healthy babies.