Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry shared a pizza lunch with students in a Lee High School leadership class Monday afternoon.
The students, who have been meeting with city and federal leaders going on two years, want to change the juvenile justice system and reduce violence in their community.
Students were grabbing sodas and piling plates with slices of pizza and cheesy bread in the mayor’s boardroom as they sat around a long rectangular table.
“We’ve got a lot of challenges in this city,” Curry said. “There’s young people in this city — young men specifically — standing right here with me now that are experiencing ...things that most adults haven’t been through but they have figured out that focused, disciplined hard work, commitment is the way forward.”
Curry told the students the purpose of the lunch was to hang out and talk with them after he’d met with them a couple weeks ago in their classroom.
The students came to Curry with ideas they think he can help with. Several, including 16-year-old William Walden, told Curry they love playing sports, but there’s not a lot of access to community centers after school.
“We’re not really asking for money, we’re just asking for more community centers or for the prices to be cheaper or even free so we can have fun and do something productive after school,” Walden said.
Walden said more access to the centers can help curb youth crime.
Curry jotted this down and said it’s something he can work on.
The Lee High teens call what they’re doing the EVAC movement. EVAC, cave spelled backward, represents stepping out of ignorance and darkness and into the light. They’ve met with judges, police and even White House staff in Washington D.C. about the issues affecting their peers, who are being labeled “at-risk.”
Curry said he’d like the students to help him duplicate their leadership program. The EVAC students brainstormed Ribault Middle and High schools as a place to start. They said there’s already a lot of diversion funding for younger kids.
“They are the model of how we can fundamentally change our city with young people,” Curry said of the students.
Curry also promised to take the students to a Jaguar game next season.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.