May 19, 2022
Tags: Anytown, Anytown Alumni, Community-Building, Youth Leadership,
Hi y’all – It’s María here, NCCJ’s assistant program director.
Today, I went to see Mrs. Gwen Atkinson at The Academy at Smith to hand her some Anytown applications for her students. Once I got there, she began to call student after student to come grab one. As I listened to her explain to them what Anytown is and why they need to go, I fought back my own emotions.
You see, Mrs. Atkinson was my school counselor when I was a student at Western Guilford High School.
One day, she called me to her office and told me I was going to NCCJ’s Youth Leadership Conference. She said that it was going to change my life. I didn’t really want to go, but I also didn’t want to let her down.
So, I went. And it did change my life. And I never looked back.
That summer, I attended Anytown as a delegate. Then I came back to Anytown as a peer counselor. Then after I finished college, I came back as an adult advisor. Then in graduate school I was an NCCJ intern.
And now, here we are. I’m one of the adults who run Anytown.
Twelve years have passed since that first moment when Mrs. Atkinson told me I needed to go to NCCJ’s youth programs. Year after year, the words she said to me make more sense.
Today, I watched as she looked at one of her students and said, “there’s a whole world out there baby, and you’re going to conquer it all.” And I couldn’t help but think about how she helped me conquer it, too.
The racially motivated hate crimes that occurred this past weekend are another tragic reminder that we must all work diligently to provide teens with opportunities to engage with folks from different races, religions and other walks of life in order to interrupt cycles of prejudice that can lead to deliberate and well-planned (i.e. far from senseless) acts of violence.
Help NCCJ do this work to provide these experiences for young people in our community before they find their “community” amongst those that would rather not see a world of mutual respect, acceptance and liberty for all.
Be someone’s Mrs. Atkinson today. Encourage a young person to apply to NCCJ’s youth programs. Help them fill out an application for Anytown or STARR. Tell them why it’s important to you for them to go.