Meet 15-year-old Chantel "Chani" Christie, who's making her mark in the world as an author, singer, and positive role model. Chani, the daughter of NBA star Doug Christie, keeps busy as a youth ambassador on HIV/AIDS Awareness, recently released her debut album "My Dream," and has written a book titled, "I Want to Live!: A Teenager's Guide To Finding Self Love," which addresses important topics for young people. Chani talked to IML about her book, her volunteer work, and what she loves about being homeschooled.
IML: Congrats on "I Want To Live"! Can you tell us a little bit about your book?
Chantel: It covers a broad spectrum of things that are important to teens, like diet, exercise, and learning to love yourself. I find that I listen better if it's someone around my own age who's speaking to me and I found that other teens feel the same way. I think when this information comes from a parent, they kind of feel like they're being reprimanded. So I felt like doing this book to put everything in one place so teens and tweens can go and read about the things they want and don't want in life. I get so many emails and messages on MySpace from people who say, "I read your book, what do you think about this? What do you have to say about this?" I feel so happy to be able to share my thoughts with others and hear theirs.
IML: What inspired you to write it?
Chantel: I've always been a big reader and I found that a lot of the books for teens weren't by teens -- it was older people giving their idea of how we're feeling. From my ambassadorship on HIV and AIDS I've seen so much, from little babies having it from birth, to teens who have it and are taking 20 or 30 pills a day. So I just wanted to share my outlook with anyone who's willing to listen, and that's my goal. If I can help one person, I would feel so much better about myself and that I actually did something. As I was writing it, I found I was learning too! When I saw the finished product, I felt really proud of myself and hope people like it.
IML: Why is "loving yourself" so much easier said than done? What are a few of your tips?
Chantel: I'm not going to be a hypocrite and say that there aren't days when I get up and say to myself, "Oh my gosh, I look so ugly, I hate my hair!" I feel like that's what we all need, that honesty to say, "You know, I'm not perfect...and that's okay". I'm not trying to tell anyone what to do, but I believe that you just have to love yourself because you're all that you have and you can't expect others to love you until you love yourself. I feel like teens these days, they see people on TV and in magazines and think that's what they have to look like. It leads us down the wrong road and make some bad choices when it comes to eating. You don't have to be like the girls in the media, you're you!
IML: Most IML'ers are tweens...so what were you like as a tween?
Chantel: There were always days when I felt like nobody understood me and that I was all alone. Or that everybody's picking on me and being mean. Sometimes I still have those days! But my parents were always there to guide me. Because of who my dad is, there were always those kids in school who wanted to pick on me, and spread rumors like, "Chani thinks she's better than the rest of us." I dealt with a lot of peer pressure in school -- you know, "hang out with this crowd and you'll fit in better." I just felt like I had to follow my own path and if I had to sit alone at the lunch table, then that's what it had to be. I didn't want to conform to something I didn't believe in. I didn't want to be in the "in crowd" because they just wanted to use me to go to basketball games.
IML: How did you get involved as a youth ambassador?
Chantel: The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) contacted my parents and asked if I would be interested. I immediately thought it would be great -- I love to learn new things, and to be able to learn about HIV/AIDS and speak about it, I saw that as a great opportunity. I went down to Washington, D.C. in 2007 and got to speak to other teens who have the disease, which was an amazing experience. It would be great if they could find a cure but right now I just want to give support to teens and tell them that I am here for them to talk to.
IML: Why do you think it's important for young people to "give back"?
Chantel: I think it's good to give back because I know I feel so much better. Even when I was little, because of who my dad is, me and my sister and my mom would go to homeless shelters and volunteer and see how people responded. So I've had that embedded in me since I was 6 or 7.
IML: What's your advice for other teens who want to get involved with a cause but don't know where to start?
Chantel: It's so funny because I went with my grandmother to vote during the presidential election and it was right up the street from our house, at a community center turned into a senior home. They were in there doing exercises and stuff and I was like, I want to volunteer here! My parents thought it was a great idea so I'm going to start soon. I think some kids think they can't do anything because they're not 18, but I don't think of it that way. There's so much you can do, from babysitting to mowing lawns for someone who can't do it themselves to cleaning up the park. You can go out there and help other people your own age, and you'll feel really good about it. You have to start small -- you can't start super big. If you want to help, do the research and find out where you go. Talk to your parents, talk to your counselors at school. There's somewhere for everybody when it comes to volunteering.
IML: Do you enjoy being homeschooled? What are the pros and cons?
Chantel: I haven't always been homeschooled. I went to school at many different schools but I just started homeschooling recently because of my schedule. It was what was best because we travel a lot. It's cool. The pro's are that you can work at your own pace -- I can go ahead as far as I need to if I'm planning to go out of town and want to get stuff out of the way. Or if I'm tired from the weekend, I can work through Monday and then sleep in on Tuesday. And you can work in your PJ's! The con's are that you don't see your friends or it's harder to make friends, but I connect with people online. There's also your family and friends you had from school if you went to school previously. There really aren't that many cons, it's just a lot of hard work. Some people think if you homeschool, you don't have to work as much. But you really do. You still have to take the tests and you still have to pass!
IML: Thanks for talking to us, Chani...and good luck with everything!
Chantel: Thank you!
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