Highland Oaks Middle School student Daniel Andrade, 12, knows what happens when you get involved with criminal activity.
But hearing from other members of the community who have committed crimes and turned their lives around is a motivation leading him on the right path for a brighter future.
“When I hear these people speak it gets to me emotionally from what they have experienced,” he said. “This one time I saw a kid who was robbing on the news and he got shot in the head. It got to me and I said, ‘Who is going to be there for my mom and family.’”
Daniel was one of more than 300 children who attended state Sen. Oscar Braynon’s annual Choice Challenge, held May 7 at Florida International University’s Kovens Center in North Miami.
The free youth-only, full-day event is aimed to equip middle- and high-school students with the knowledge and tools to make conscious decisions about their future. The event offers educational workshops focusing on careers, life choices, character development and self-empowerment.
Daniel was robbing items until his mother and school staff stepped in and recommended he enroll in a program such as the 5000 Role Models, which mentors youth.
“It’s helping me with my grades and academics. I am doing better in sports. My mom said I can do whatever I want, but I have to improve my grades. It’s driving me to what I want to become.”
Highland Oaks social studies teacher Nathaniel Williams sees the success from these programs firsthand.
“These kids deal with a lot of problems, which most come from the home front,” he said. “The kids need someone to talk to. They need a mentor.”
Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said the event is vital for the future of the youth in his district.
“This is my most important event all year because this event makes a difference moving forward,” he said. “I see in the news what happens in my community that aren’t great. You see a kid getting shot by another kid, but this is the time we get to talk to them we bring the people that can talk to them because they are the people they listen too.”
At the workshops, well-known celebrities such as former NFL player Santana Moss, radio personality Supa Cindy and others shared how they personally changed their lives around after facing challenges.
Panelist Koren Bedeau, an associate dean of the graduate school at University of Miami, said the event teaches children tools that could last a lifetime.
“These kids are at a critical point where the decision they make can have strong implications their life goes,” she said. “It’s important the way they do it. The panelists present stories of their challenges. The choices they made limited their options they had and presenting it in that manner gives students challenges them to be analytical. That’s a life skill that if they start to do now they will master in whatever they do from here on forward.”
For more information, visit www.choicechallenge.org.