My name is DJ Yearwood, I’m 16, and I am proud to be an American Heart Association (AHA) youth advocate.
Through the American Heart Association, I have begun a path in public health advocacy and youth related issues. It is because of the American Heart Association that I have been able to learn and grow in ways that I could’ve never imagined when I first started working with this organization at the age of 13.
The issues that are nearest to my heart are those that directly affect my peers and community. Most notably, this would be the issue of how tobacco industries target black and brown communities, communities of lower socioeconomic status, and minors. The tobacco industry has been able to successfully target these groups in my community, creating an ongoing crisis of addiction, illness, and preventable death amongst my peers. I can never be content with an entire industry targeting minors in such a sick and greedy way. AHA has provided me an opportunity and platform for my voice and leadership to be elevated, and my perspective brought to the table. This is exactly how I, as a youth advocate, along with other community leaders have been able to accomplish so much.
Together, AHA advocates fought for the largest investment into tobacco cessation funding in Missouri’s history. We push for local governments to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vape products. We fight ill-intentioned preemption bills that seek to up-end years worth of public health work. We work nationally to provide a platform to those most affected to voice their perspective and experience. This mentality, engraved into the minds of all of AHA’s committed volunteers, that we must persist and persevere even when things go badly is the reason I, along with many others, continue to fight.
The American Heart Association, aside from helping to launch my journey overall into the advocacy space, has provided me with resources that I need for personal and professional growth. Because of what I have learned from this organization, I have been able to achieve huge things. This year, I was named the 2023 Barrie Fiske National Youth Advocate of the Year by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids because of my work in partnership with AHA, and have become a National Youth Ambassador. I’ve advocated for federal policy changes at the United States Capitol and directly with FDA officials. I’ve led anti-tobacco youth efforts here at home in Kansas City and continue to do so. Finally, I’ve gotten an opportunity to work all across the country with thousands of youth advocates who are all in this fight together.
I can not express my gratitude enough to the American Heart Association, and specifically the American Heart Association of Kansas & Missouri.