After she graduates from high school, Ariana Kearney wants to attend college and become a software engineer.
The 15-year-old rising sophomore said there’s one major aspect she sees in the engineering profession: it’s dominated by whites.
A Pew Research Center report released in April shows engineers and scientists ranked last among African-American adults who view those professions as “open” to Blacks.
“It’s very disappointing because there aren’t a lot of Black people in software engineering,” she said. “I aim to make a difference very quickly. We need more Black people, especially Black women, in the profession. Being here is helping me go to the next level and raise my voice a little more.”
The ability to make her voice heard gained needed assistance through her participation in a weeklong social justice camp the week of Aug. 1 at Spauldings Branch Library in District Heights.
The new program offered this summer by the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System helps teens ages 13 to 17 learn not only about advocacy but also how to conduct research and learn the fundamentals of public speaking and other skills to improve the quality of their communities.
The five weeklong camps began July 11 at the Bowie branch and will end the week of Aug. 15-19 in Hyattsville.
And for the record, the teens don’t just sit in chairs and listen to lectures all day. On Aug. 3, they walked around a room to jot down answers for an “activist research scavenger hunt.” Among the questions for which they searched for answers: find an activist who’s not an American citizen (Greta Thunberg from Sweden); find an activist or group that use social media to get their messages out to the public (Parkland Teens and Never Again MSD); and find someone who became an activist before the age of 18 (Marley Dias).
They also shared their thoughts one special person which they wrote on a Post-it note and placed next to a photo of their chosen activist on a wall.
“There’s no right or wrong answer – just your thoughts about the activism and that person,” Jessica St. Sulme, a library associate, said to the teens.
Nearly two dozen books counted as those available for reading including: “The Gay Rights Movement;” “Rise Up! How You Can Join the Fight Against White Supremacy;” and “Ten Lives, Ten Demands: Life-and-Death Stories, and a Black Activist’s Blueprint for Racial Justice.”
Isaiah West, teen services specialist for the library system, said it took nine months to create and coordinate the curriculum.
“We’re trying not to focus heavily on politicians and politics,” he said. “We’re focusing more on things affecting the teens right now. We want them to see the injustices in their community and the inequities in their community . . . ”
He said students presented proposals that addressed problems in their communities including how to fight homelessness and strategies to improve funding to better support the foster care system.
Although they aren’t old enough to vote in this year’s gubernatorial general election, several of the youth, including Micah Smith of Clinton who turns 16 in September, will be 18 before the November 2024 presidential general election.
His passion: recycling.
“I’m an environmentalist. I control all the trash in the house. That’s my job,” said Micah, who’s homeschooled along with his 13-year-old sister, Mischa Smith, also a camp participant. “People are uneducated in the art of recycling. Recycling can actually save them money and it keeps the environment clean.”
Ariana plans to take what she has learned back to her high school in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She’s spending the summer in Prince George’s with her aunt, Ashley Kearney, who ran for a seat on the county’s school board in last month’s primary election.
“I want to fight for a lot of things,” she said. “In school, you don’t talk about social issues that much. It’s very controversial and [school officials] try not to offend people. But it’s something we should really be discussing.”
For more information on this or other teen programs and activities, go to https://pgcmls.info/teens.