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4-H’ers focus on civic engagement

For North Carolina’s state 4-H president Oshė Pittman, 4-H Citizenship North Carolina Focus has become an important stop on his journey toward becoming a judge.

“I’ve been a 4-H’er for eight years, and I’ve been to Citizenship North Carolina Focus four times. It’s my favorite,” said Pittman, a North Carolina Central University political science and mass communication student from Duplin County.

“I’ve always had a big voice, but this event has helped me further develop my leadership skills and helped me gain skills as a follower as well,” Pittman explained, “because it’s important to be a team player if you want to get things done.”

And getting things done was what the three-day event was all about. Held June 15-17 in downtown Raleigh, the event’s theme was “Stand Up. Speak Out. Do Something.”

As Extension 4-H Associate Sarah Kotzian said, “all the speakers and events focused on helping participants find ways to make their community, state, country and world a better place.”

“Voting is just one piece of citizenship and civic responsibility. If you are too young too vote, you still have a voice, and this event is designed to empower 4-H’ers to use their voice and to act,” Kotzian added.

Kotzian and others on the state 4-H staff at NC State University, along with the N.C. Civic Education Consortium at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, planned, prepared and led the conference workshops and activities.

Speakers included Jess Ekstrom, who, for example, discussed her experience with Headbands for Hope, a company she started as an NC State student. The company sells headbands, and with each sale, donates one to a young person with cancer and contributes $1 to cancer-related charities. Singer Mary D. Williams, who has performed around the world, discussed how music can influence social movements. And Holocaust survivor Peter Stein delivered a powerful message about what can happen when good people do not stand up and speak out against injustice.

Participants had the chance to learn about the democratic process, to explore ways to advocate and speak out, and to brainstorm about issues they care about and what they could do about those issues. They also got to interact with a panel from NC SPIN, a statewide TV and radio talk show.

On the final day, the conference’s 129 participants from 64 counties enjoyed a breakfast with state senators and representatives at the N.C. History Museum, then went across the street to visit those elected officials at their offices in the State Legislative Building.

In speaking to 4-H’ers, adult leaders and elected officials at the history museum, State 4-H Leader Mike Yoder cited a quotation some have attributed to the late United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld: “I wondered why somebody didn’t do something. And then I realized I am somebody.”

“Today you have the opportunity to meet some of the most influential people we have in North Carolina,” Yoder said. “They are people care about you, they care about your community, they care about this state, the Great North State.”

It was time, he told the 4-H’ers, “to stand up, speak out and do something” about the important challenges facing their communities and the state. “Let them know what your interests are,” he said, “and how you may be able to help them in the future.”

-D. Shore