Elizabeth Smart Helps Louisiana Youth to Find Light After Storms

Elizabeth Smart
Image via utsandiego.com

Louisiana Girls Leadership Academy (LGLA) invited Elizabeth Smart, child-abduction victim and activist, to speak at the closing ceremonies of its four-day leadership program. Smart stood in front of an audience of teenage girls and other members of the community, sharing experiences from her kidnapping, her rescue, and how she was able to overcome such a horrible trial.

Sydney Landry, writer for The Nicholls Worth, reports that the main point Smart made in her address was everyone has problems, but that the people who stand out and make a difference are those who make the choice to move forward:

Whether it be family, health, or work-related, we all come across hard times… The people who stand out most to her are the ones who do not let their problems define them.

[quote_box_right]”Her message teaches young girls that they can persevere in any situation – that they are stronger than they could ever imagine.”[/quote_box_right]

NOLA.com reports that LGLA was excited to have Smart come and speak to the audience of more than 300 people because of the message she tells through her experiences. Brandie Toups, a member of the LGLA chair said that Elizabeth Smart was the perfect speaker for the Academy this year because “not only is her profound story particularly relevant in today’s world, but her message teaches young girls that they can persevere in any situation – that they are stronger than they could ever imagine.”

Smart’s kidnapping made national news in 2002 when Brian David Mitchell, who called himself Emmanuel, abducted Smart from her home in Salt Lake City, UT. Smart told those in attendance at the closing ceremony that she didn’t know what to do when Mitchell broke into her home to take her:

If you ever catch on fire, you stop drop and roll, or if you’re ever caught in an earthquake, you go to the bathroom. I was told to look both ways when you cross the street and don’t talk to strangers, but I was never told what I should do if someone tried to kidnap me or take me out of my bedroom.

Mitchell kept Smart in the mountains above her home, keeping her from her family and frequently sexually abusing her. Smart expressed that the only thing that kept her going were thoughts of her family and friends back home, and the knowledge that her family would always love her. After nine months, Smart was finally found and rescued. This is the point at which Smart had to make a decision: was she going to let this experience make her bitter or better. Smart tells Leadership Academy audience that her mother gave her the best advice she could have ever been given. She said:

The best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy, to move forward with your life, and to do exactly what you want to do. By feeling sorry for yourself, you’re only allowing him to steal more of your life, and he does not deserve that, he does not deserve a single second more.

[quote_box_right]”I am no longer sorry for what happened to me.”[/quote_box_right]

In her address, Smart wanted to make sure that the young girls understood that they can do anything—they can overcome any trial they face. Smart says that one thing that helps her is the faith that every day is going to be better than the previous and that she has been able to use her experience to help others. She says, “Yes, I was kidnapped, but I have also started a foundation, spoken all over the country, and worked on legislation. I am no longer sorry for what happened to me.”

She offered advice to anyone who is struggling or who has gone through a similar experience and encourages them to take as much time as is needed to heal, and to find a new normal. The Nicholl’s Worth reports that Smart has found her “new normal” through starting the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, an organization focused on preventing and stopping predatory crimes, and on bringing victims safely home.

Learn more about Smart’s experience in her New York Times best-selling novel, My Story