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Duval Church And Education Leaders Launch Effort To Prevent Dangerous Social Media Challenges

Rhema Thompson

Seventeen-year-old Kioni Campbell can remember when he tried one of the challenges."It was the ice challenge," he recalled.

The challenge he was referring to is better known as the "salt and ice challenge": a viral video feat in which the participant places salt on their body — usually the arm — followed by ice, creating a burning sensation.

It's been a few years, but Campbell can remember what it felt like, too.

"It burned like I could really feel it," he said.

The thing is, he can't quite recall why he did it.  

"I don't know... I was just being stupid at the moment. I was just curious," he said, standing before about a dozen other teens who recounted similar stories that either they or their friends had experienced.

They all joined Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and Bethel Baptist Institutional Church Pastor, Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr. to speak out against the so-called social media challenges — stunts taken on by youth often in the name of boosting pageviews.

The group announced a campaign to combat the teen trend that has taken an increasingly dangerous tone, like the currently popular “fire challenge.” That challenge involves dousing one's skin with rubbing alcohol before lighting it on fire.

Anthony O’Neal is youth pastor at Bethel Baptist Church. He said tales of tragedy from such activity have not personally hit his group of Jacksonville teens, but the campaign is an effort to keep it that way.

"School is about to go back in, so now we’re going to see more kids around each other so my thing is, I want to prevent it now before it really really becomes a real big and major issue," he said.

Destiny Jones, 18, a recent graduate of First Coast Christian School, said it's a matter of helping teens channel their creativity in a productive way.

"The reality is if we’re not positively cultivating our minds, then that leaves open space and open opportunity for teenagers to come up with these challenges that have been going viral," she said.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the school district is planning to host a series of seminars at schools to educate students on the dangers of the viral video stunts.

"As a school system, as a Superintendent, I can’t just sit on the sideline and say 'Well, that’s a community issue; that’s a parent issue,'" he said. "It’s all of our issues and as Superintendent, I can’t talk about the whole child unless we’re taking on and addressing these issues."     

Bethel Baptist Church will kick off the campaign against social media challenges Aug. 14 during its second annual “iPraise” event for Jacksonville Youth. Organizers say they expect as many as 4,000 teens to attend this year.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.