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Center for Adolescent Health

Center for Adolescent Health Blog

Keyword: youth voice

by Jada Johnson

Ed. Note: WIth a deeply reflective look at her life, Jada Johnson offers the first in our Baltimore Youth COVID Diaries, a series of works to document the effects of COVID-19 on Baltimore's young people in their own voices.

Since Corona has come amongst us my biggest fear has been being completely behind and possibly at risk of failing myself, school and others around me because of serious procrastination throughout the years. 

Feeling like I’m behind on everything has been a heavy burden on me and my pockets because it has stopped me from reaching my full potential and lowered my chances of getting the job of my dreams that eventually leads me to the land where financial troubles no longer exist. 

I also tend to self-sabotage. This created a lot of doubt and skepticism in me because I became conditioned to always believe I would never be good enough. To this day I struggle just a little bit. 

Recently there have been many opportunities coming my way which has heightened my level of belief in myself and lowered my tendency to self-sabotage. Overall it’s allowed me to focus on other problems I face within myself. 

With all of the chaos I created within myself, I began to have low self-esteem. I saw everybody else around me succeeding and exceeding expectations, while I wasn’t even walking the speed limit of some of my younger peers. 

It weighed heavily on my mental health. My low self-esteem kept me from seeing my true beauty. I would not post pictures of myself, join in other peoples pictures, or allow people to post pictures of me on social media because I thought that I was not as pretty as my peers. 

Keeping myself in such a tight closet kept me from going outside and enjoying time with my friends, attending events and even participating in any high school memories. 

To this day I regret allowing my self-esteem to hinder me. I’m not saying that it doesn’t still shadow over me, it just isn’t a burden now. 

Procrastination became my strategy for high school. After trying and failing Freshman Year, instead of revamping my plan of attack, I got scared and ran to hide. 

Sometimes as I walked the halls of Western High School I felt like an imposter. I felt like I didn’t belong because the first year was such a struggle. 

As  Sophomore Year approached I tried to learn how to be an effective high school student. Then my grandmother passed away and I decided Sophomore Year wasn't going to be one for the books. 

After a long summer of grief, I decided to go back my Junior Year and fake the happiness until it became true, but that didn't work either because of my home environment. 

Senior Year came and I was completely done taking loss after loss, so I decided to flunk most of my year.

Once January hit Western put me out and I was completely shattered. I transferred to a school that I thought was beneath me and reacted negatively by not going to school at all. 

Then Corona came and I just put my hands up and thought that I should surrender completely and be a failure. 

As time set in and Corona got worse I began to self reflect. I took this time to evaluate my friends and myself. I had recently become a part of Heart Smiles in January, but I wasn’t as serious about being successful so I didn’t really try to get any opportunities. Soon enough I had noticed that not taking HeartSmiles seriously was a bad idea. 

After joining HeartSmiles and attending Winning Wednesdays, which is led by a mother full of love, it helped me love myself a little more and move toward success. In Winning Wednesdays I started to focus on what I was good at instead of what I was not good at. 

That's when I came across journalism and writing. But not only did I see my full potential, people around me began to see it as well. One person who saw me was Ms.Joni, who has given me endless opportunities to show my true talent.

Honestly, even though all of these things happened to me before Corona, I feel like these things made my quarantine become a successful time of self-reflection and repair. I am actually quite thankful for Corona and all of the people who have assisted me in this time period. It has really helped open my eyes and see the clearer side of things. 

Even though I still struggle a little day by day with procrastination; having nothing but time on my hands has allowed me to turn what I saw as a  burden into a small worry. 


Youth Advisory Board Members Inspired After Arts Showcase in New York City 

Jerome Waters and his family

Jerome Waters, a member of the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health’s Youth Advisory Board, organized a concert in New York City to showcase the talent of young musicians and artists. The showcase included five performers from Waters’ Humble Beast Movement record label who emphasize positive messages in their music. Additionally, about 15 teenagers from Baltimore and New York competed for the chance to perform at Waters’ upcoming summer concert series. The Center for Adolescent Health’s communications specialist, Lauren Burns, had the chance to talk to Waters and Joni Holified, Waters’ mentor and founder of HeartSmiles, a Baltimore-based organization passionately dedicated to motivating, inspiring, and empowering Baltimore's youth.

Lauren: How did you promote the showcase?

Jerome: Mostly [through] social media from my team here in Baltimore. We actually reached out to a few New York people that could promote for us, a couple of organizations, and they helped us get it together and bring out a New York crowd. We found who were the hottest performers [and] upcoming artists from New York City and we said, “You guys, are you interested in this opportunity?” And a lot of them took it, and brought their friends along as well.

Lauren: I think the big point of Humble Beast Movement is that the musicians and artists that are connected with HBM have a positive message. Why is that so important to you?

Jerome: Positive music it gives them [HBM artists] more of an outlet in different arenas to express themselves.
Women performing

Joni: Especially in Baltimore, being able to allow [adolescents to do] something that they're passionate about, something that they gravitate towards and be able to turn that into something positive can oftentimes mean the difference, literally, between life and death for some young people. We have several young people who suffer severely with depression and the only way that they are able to deal with and cope and manage that depression is through music. 

Lauren: What makes you committed to creating opportunities for young performers in Baltimore?

Jerome: So many talented kids and talented people are all really just left by the wayside because they don't know the business and they don't understand what music can do for them. There's so many lost talents that they can't even generate revenue from them because they don't know how, so it's my job to teach them how and get the youth out of poverty. We have a couple of artists right now coming up and getting paid for their music as we speak so it's a good feeling. 

Joni: It's just important for us to still be able to feed to them that positive message. Music is a universal language. Music breaks a lot of barriers between people. Music is one of those things that we all can sit around and gather around and bring us together regardless of our backgrounds, our cultures, our different experiences, and all that, so when you think about music and art a lot of times it is a common denominator when you think about things that bring people together genuinely.

Lauren: What was your favorite part of the event?
Group of performers

Jerome: When we went to New York we all worked together. Everybody was from Baltimore; we were one team. We moved as one. So it was so much easier for us to support each other. Every Baltimore artist that came up to the stage, everyone cheered for one another. It was a great feeling. I feel it was important.

Joni: It was an amazing feeling to see the kids buzzing on social media, they're still talking about it. It’s still the talk of Baltimore--the HBM trip to New York. I can't go in any high school or in any public place right now without somebody asking me, “When can they go to New York with HBM?”.  It's just brought so much hope and so much positivity back to the city for young people who want to push on.

An amazing group of young people from Baltimore City serve on a Youth Advisory Board (YAB) that provides guidance to the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health (CAH) and the Risks to Adolescent Health focus area of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative. YAB members range in age; most are in high school, college, or the workforce. The YAB meets regularly - usually every two weeks - to give their input on issues central to the mission of CAH and the Initiative. YAB members take an active role in developing projects in partnership with CAH and the Initiative and in disseminating findings to stakeholders in the community.

We want to spotlight the talents and achievements of the YAB and their commitment to promoting the health and well being of adolescents in Baltimore. This inaugural Youth Advisory Board Spotlight features Jerome Waters.

Jerome's Humble Beast Movement 

Jerome Waters

Jerome, 17, is a senior at Franklin High School in Baltimore County. He is the founder of Humble Beast Movement, a clothing brand and music label. Building his business is only one part of what makes Jerome tick. As a graduate of Joni Holifield’s HeartSmiles Entrepreneurship Program, he’s also passionate about youth advocacy and supporting his peers. Jerome was recently awarded a $20,000 grant through the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund to launch an after school program in which he will train middle and high school students in music production and entrepreneurial skills. He recently chatted with Lauren Burns, the Center’s communications specialist, and discussed his commitment to youth development, business, and giving back.

Lauren: How did you decide to apply for a grant through the Youth Fund?

Jerome: I wanted to do something for the youth, because I'm already involved in a lot of youth and community work. I came up with the idea of a project that helps youth express themselves through music and create revenue for themselves through that music. I needed something to help me push this project further so that's why I applied for the grant.

Lauren: When will the program start? What will the students be doing?

Jerome: Right now, they're learning the earning basic foundations of business through Ms. Joni [Holifield]’s program HeartSmiles. They’ll transfer to my program in November, and they [will] actually learn how to run a fully operational state-of-the-art studio. They'll produce their own music, make their own music, and record themselves. Eventually, they'll graduate and move to booking other slots for other people, actually mixing and mastering their music as well.

Lauren: So it’s kind of like a production lab.

Jerome: Yeah, my [company] Humble Beast Movement is a label and management team.  I'm looking for new artists, new talent that can help my team out, and I can help them out as well.

Lauren: When did you become interested in youth and entrepreneurship?

Jerome: Well, since I was young I was always selling stuff, like just selling stuff in my house. Anything I could find. Like my old toys. I started to push myself more. And about a year and a half ago, I developed this whole brand--Humble Beast Movement-- this whole idea of being humble but being a beast, and that was like a whole movement, that kinda helped me see a difference in myself and the people around me. Once I really realized what being "humble" meant I started to see that other people wasn't humble. The people that I was hanging with, the friends that I had, the family that I was around, wasn't the right people to be around because they weren't humble.  It was kind of taking away from the whole idea of what I was trying to do.

Lauren: What does "humble" mean to you?

Jerome: It means you can be the best in the world at whatever you do, but never taking away anyone else's credit or trying to down somebody else, but uplifting them and helping them be better. That's my whole idea, that just being the best you can be, but helping other people do the same.

Lauren: How do you juggle all your responsibilities with Humble Beast Movement, launching your program, and work supporting HeartSmiles?

Jerome: I prioritize by the day. I never know what could pop up the next day, the next week, next month, or year. But I just stay ready for whatever comes my way. And then I just kinda keep positive people around me that keep me disciplined and motivated. Because I know that if something gets too hard, or something gets too stressful, the old me would have just gave up, quit, but now that I have powerful people that can help me go further, I can't.

Lauren: What are your plans for the future?

Jerome: I'm still looking at college. I want go to somewhere close, because I wanna be able to still run the [music production and entrepreneurship] program. I'm focused in on building a Humble Beast Movement to the next level, signing other artists, and being able to send them on tours. I got big dreams that I really want to accomplish.


The Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health and Open Society Institute partnered with YouthWorks to fund the 5-week Summer Youth Leadership Institute for Baltimore City Public School students. Eighty students participated in the program across five BCPS high schools served as host sites: Academy for College and Career Exploration (ACCE), Achievement Academy, Forest Park High School, Frederick Douglass High School, and Patterson High School. Through the Summer Youth Leadership Institute students examined school climate data, held community conversations about school climate, and participated in enrichment workshops.

Following the Institute, a rising senior at ACCE, Jasmine Carter, is empowered to speak out. “What really stuck out to me the most is [learning] about our voice.” Aram Boykins, high school program manager for the Baltimore Debate League, shared valuable advice to the students. “He told us we have a voice, use it. ... So if you want something done you have to use your voice,” Carter explained.  Carter continued, “I want to make a big difference because it’s my last year. I’m going to use my voice as much as I can to improve our school. I’m going to think about what I learned in the program. It’s going to motivate me to do better in school and focus on what I got to do outside of school as well,” Carter, along with each of the groups, will present their findings and recommendations to their school’s principal and School-Family Council as well as the City Schools’ CEO during the 2017-18 school year.

The summer wasn’t all school climate for the students.  They also attended workshops on financial literacy, public speaking, and workforce readiness skills. ACCE student Deondrae Witherspoon liked the variety of the program. “We learned about banking, how to be a leader, how to be professional, and how to speak up for yourself,” he said. Partners from across Baltimore City provided enrichment programs, for the students such as spoken word, music, intensive mentoring, dance and mindfulness.

Katrina Brooks, CAH’s community relations director said, “It gave them the opportunity to test out their public speaking, so they felt confident through spoken word, music, and theatre. They were able to use their voice and practice in a safe space amongst their peers.” Enrichment partners included Baltimore-based organizations such as DewMore Baltimore, New Vision Youth Services, Equal Medium Mentorship Program, and Holistic Life Foundation. Brooks said, “Because the enrichment was focused on areas young people like or had some experience with, it was a good draw to the program. It was a great networking opportunity for schools and students that they could benefit from beyond the summer.”

The Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health thanks its partners in helping to make the Summer Institute a success and looks forward to empowering students in future sessions.

Written by: Lauren Burns