Ambassadors from the 2017 SMART START Youth Summit share their stories
Written by: ILANA REIMER
When Jamal St. Lewis began coaching young people and refereeing for track and field events, he discovered that many people don’t have a healthy understanding or approach to self-improvement.
Many of the youth he worked with asked him for advice with their health goals. Jamal found that many of them were going on diets as quick fixes, and were constantly stressed by the results. He became interested in helping people build goals that weren’t so focused on a number.
Born in Ottawa, Jamal is now in his fourth year of business management at Dalhousie University. He’s still just as passionate about this issue.
“I would love to change the mindset around health,” said the 22-year-old. “So it’s not so much focusing on weight loss, but more on an individual’s healthy body size and type.”
Frustrated by how women’s magazines are full of tips on how to lose weight, rather than becoming healthier, Jamal tries to steer people towards more helpful goals, such as eating better.
“It’s about healthy approaches to self-improvement, rather than enforcing the same standards on everyone,” Jamal said. “There are so many reasons why trying to lose weight really quickly is bad for your body—and then if you gain it all back it causes even worse self-esteem. Changing your outlook towards small things can actually help you see long-term change.”
Sports and fitness aside, Jamal also volunteers as a medical responder for St. John Ambulance. He loves to read—two of his favourite book series being Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. He’s also a fan of board games such as Monopoly and Settlers of Catan.
While in university, Jamal has thrown himself into multiple student advocacy roles—focusing much of his efforts towards mental health and wellness issues. One of Jamal’s biggest achievements has been founding the Dalhousie Sports Industry Society. The society helps students get involved in the sports industry, creates opportunities for volunteering and networking, and advocates for students in sports.
It’s not always easy to complete his schooling on top of all of this. “You find the time,” Jamal said. Last year, he would arrive on campus around 8:00 a.m. every weekday, and wouldn’t get home until about 9:00 or 10:00 p.m.
When Jamal heard about YLAC, he was hooked by their focus on investing in the next generation and focusing on students who don’t have many opportunities. He was accepted to be an ambassador for the 2017 SMART START Youth Summit.
“I fell in love with what they are doing,” he said. “And it grew into something that fit exactly what I wanted to do, so I’m really happy I did it.”
For him, what stood out the most from last year’s summit was the passion, talent and brains of the young participants. “The ideas that the students brought forward were some of the most impressive ideas that I’ve seen in years,” he said.
As the delegates developed their business ideas, Jamal saw them identify niche needs that would impact their communities. They cared about more than just success, and they were motivated to keep pursuing their ideas after leaving the summit. Many of them were already involved in activism in their schools.
“Some of them did not have much,” Jamal said. “But the ideas that they gave were astounding. I was so impressed across the board with the work they put in and their enthusiasm, creativity and ingenuity.”
During the summit, Jamal discovered that each of the ambassadors, speakers and sponsors had a story of how someone tried to count out their dreams or abilities. They were told they couldn’t or shouldn’t pursue their dreams, but they chose to keep going.
“‘Even if I have to work twice as hard, I’m going to get there.’ That’s kind of the narrative I saw, and I loved it,” Jamal said.
Looking ahead, he dreams of one day building a sports facility in Ottawa—equipped to host any kind of Olympic level sporting competition. The goal is for it to be a place where athletes can train year-round, and where research can be conducted for improving sports performance, fitness and longevity.
He would also like to introduce health and nutrition into the education system in really practical, day-to-day ways, like proper eating habits and fitness methods.
“This is not just to make sure that people are prepared for high-level sports, but also for any career,” Jamal said. “It’s so that people can live happier, better quality and longer lives.”
Interested in becoming an ambassador or delegate? Apply now for the 2018 SMART START Youth Summit.