Second Annual Youth Dialogue Day spotlights students concerns, taking action

Ruben Arias, director of constituent affairs for Miami- Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez presented a proclamation recognizing Youth Dialogue Day and the work of Informed Families and the South Miami Drug- Free Coalition. Pictured are (l-r) Coalition Director Margaret Sotham, Coalition Chairman Kathy Sparger, Chief Nursing Officer at South Miami Hospital and Informed Families President & CEO Peggy Sapp.

More than 20 South Miami Senior High students gathered in the school gymnasium on May 1 to tell it how they see it. The nearly 50 adults assembled there played students — listening, questioning and taking notes. To use this newfound insight into the students’ concerns in their work and to help find solutions to the most pressing problems for youth. Called Youth Dialogue Day, the event brings together students with elected officials, executives, health care professionals, principals, faith leaders, business community leaders and drug, alcohol and violence-prevention professionals, all with the same goal: Listen to the concerns of students.

Attendees this year included South Miami Mayor Philip K. Stoddard, Vice Mayor Josh Liebman, Commissioner Walter Harris, South Miami Hospital CEO Lincoln Mendez, Informed Families President & CEO Peggy Sapp, South Miami Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Kathy Sparger and former South Miami Resident, current Seattle Seahawk and founder of Outside the Huddle Foundation Kennard Cox.

Also in attendance were principals from two local schools, faith community members, representatives from state Rep. Dwight Bullard’s office and police departments from South Miami, Miami Dade County Public Schools and Miami-Dade, staff from the Children’s Trust and The Miami Coalition for a Safe and Drug Free Community. The event kicked off with a presentation from Mayor Carlos Gimenez staff member Ruben Arias of a proclamation recognizing Youth Dialogue Day and the work of Informed Families and the South Miami Drug-Free Coalition.

Event hosts, students Gabrielle Bork and Ernie Diaz, welcomed attendees to the school and the event. All of the students served as ambassadors and spokesmen for their peers on topics ranging from the school environment to jobs to alcohol and drug use among their peers. Students gave first-hand accounts of families struggling because of an unemployed parent or peers binge-drinking at unsupervised house parties.

SMSH Principal Gilbert Bonce welcomed the spotlight on his students and their issues.“These are very bright, very motivated kids who will definitely give you their opinions, but these are important issues for all of us,” he said. “My hope is that those who attended will use what they learned here today to help address some of these issues.”

Organized by the Informed Families South Miami Drug-Free Coalition and South Miami Senior High, the event was set up in speeddating fashion. Participants spent just nine minutes at each of 8 “topic tables” staffed by students before being ushered to the next table with the clang of a bell. Adults were asked to listen and not talk – except to prompt students to talk or ask questions to clarify. Bubble gum and candy were provided to occupy their mouths, and a conspicuously displayed roll of bright green duct tape served as a visible reminder to adults to stay quiet.

After the dialogue session ended, adults and students dined on a lunch donated by Carrabba’s Italian Grill in South Miami and were asked to share what they learned from the experience. The adult guests unanimously praised the students for their thoughtful, passionate presentations and encouraged them to become a force for change themselves. The group identified three goals to advance in the coming months and will provide updates to attendees regularly.

For more information or to get involved in next year’s Youth Dialogue Day, please contact Margaret Sotham, Director of the South Miami Drug-Free Coalition, 305.962.5606 or

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