Some teens at Jacksonville’s Lee High School chose to confront violence and the justice system this school year through an elective class.
Now as the year comes to an end, the class is reflecting on what they’ve learned and hope to change in Duval County.
"Powerful." "Inspiring." "Historical" — that’s how the students are describing their leadership class Friday. Now they consider themselves a "brotherhood."
All year they’ve been meeting with leaders — police officers, city officials, prosecutors, judges — to learn, but also educate the authority figures on young people, and what they’d like to see change.
The students are going around the classroom, showing appreciation to each other for the work they’ve done all year.
Junior Deahvieon Harris recognizes a classmate for opening up and sharing his experiences.
“When he got up there, he just killed it,” Harris said.
Sharing their personal stories has been a big part of this year’s class. All but one of the 15 students are black, and 12 students said they’ve been detained and questioned by police officers. Two students said police shot at them. A dozen of the teens said they’ve had an immediate family member murdered.
As the students reflected Friday, one teen said he doesn’t think many of the leaders realized some of Duval’s students have had these experiences. Most of the students around him agreed. But another young man said he felt they had a voice and made an impact on many of the speakers.
Sophomore Felton Morrell said when a young man sees a police officer, his first instinct is to run and he wants to see that change.
“When that happens, when a child runs, the first thing they’ll say is ‘oh they must be doing something wrong.’ So I feel that that’s what really starts off the bad vibes with police officers,” he said. “If they try to communicate with the kids, and talk to the kids and be everywhere, it wouldn’t be as bad as it is now.”
Morrell said he’s planning to start mentoring elementary-aged kids this summer.
“I didn’t expect for us to become the role models that we are,” he said. “People knowing who we are, I didn’t expect it to go that far."
He and other students said the class has given them a platform to create change. During Friday’s reflection, the students said they feel like their school is proud of them because they’re giving teens in the neighborhoods a voice.
After school lets out, they plan to keep meeting weekly and attend a Juvenile Justice summit in Washington D.C. in August.