“Youth-led. Adult Guided.” It’s something that coalitions have implemented into the fabric of their work for generations. When youth are empowered to become advocates for change and speak to what they are seeing and share their unique perspectives, positive impacts occur. As they learn to find, and value, their voice, their time with the coalition can shape their future path. Ryan Embry, is a great example of just that. As Ryan prepares to attend Michigan State University this fall, he took some time out of his busy schedule to reflect on his time with the Love Detroit Prevention Coalition (LDPC) and the valuable impact it has afforded him.
“In a way, I was kind of recruited after they overheard one of my family members bragging about me,” said Ryan. “After I learned what LDPC was all about, I thought it sounded like an amazing opportunity.”
“The biggest lesson I took away from my time with the coalition was getting the experience, and confidence, of how to speak with my peers and not let their opinions influence my beliefs. At times, I would talk with my friends about some of the work I was doing in my coalition, and they would say things like, ‘Oh, that sounds lame.’ That might have influenced me when I was younger, but I knew the work we were doing was benefiting our community, and to me, that’s pretty cool! My time with the coalition empowered me to make up my own mind and feel confident in sticking up for what I believe.”
Over the four years Ryan spent with the LDPC, he participated in a variety of prevention efforts and events, including the Synar program, which focuses on enforcing the law that prohibits the sale and distribution of tobacco products to underage individuals. Fully committed and confident in his role in the project, Ryan went undercover to local stores, accompanied by a police officer, to see if he would be able to purchase a product containing nicotine without showing an ID.
“Some people told me that I was able to get away with purchasing those products because I don’t look my age, but the rule of thumb in Michigan is to check IDs if the person looks under the age of 40. I definitely don’t think I look that old. If the store sold me the product, we would track that and fill out paperwork along with it. This past year, we visited approximately 75 stores.”
“I’m most proud of this work because I know it will have a direct impact on my community. Oftentimes, these products are packaged and marketed directly towards youth with bright packaging and fruity flavors. Through the work I was able to do with the Synar program, I feel I’m helping to turn the tide and truly make a difference among my peers and the youth that will come after me.”
The LDPC focuses on building skills in entrepreneurship and connecting its youth members with job fairs and other professional development opportunities. Through the LDPC, Ryan attended a day-long academy hosted by the FBI, which has now become his future career goal.
When asked whether or not he saw himself continuing to be involved with the LDPC, he responded, “As long as they don’t kick me out, I’ll be there! I envision myself coming on as staff in the future or remaining involved in any capacity that I am able. I’m truly grateful for my time with the coalition, and how it shaped me into the person I am today, so I would love to pay that back.”