The school year is winding down, but there’s always plenty of work to be done at B.E.S.T. Academy at Benjamin S. Carson. The faculty and staff always have their hands full trying to motivate and inspire students at the all-male Atlanta Public School. Ninth is currently the highest grade, but the ultimate goal is to expand through 12th by 2013. B.E.S.T. is an acronym standing for Business, Engineering, Science and Technology, which is the focus of the curriculum at the sprawling $30 million school named in honor of Carson, a renowned African-American neurosurgeon. Students are immersed in a rigorous academic curriculum, which includes language arts, social studies, reading, math and science.
Local child advocates are reacting favorably to United States Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent comments about the dire need for major juvenile justice system reform. In remarks to the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, Holder called for the Department of Justice to adopt a new approach that combines evidence-based research and comprehensive community partnerships. Holder also said that it’s time for us to ask some important questions such as; why is it that African-American youth make up 16 percent of the overall youth population, but comprise more than half of the juvenile population arrested for committing a violent crime? Why is it that abused and neglected children are 11 times more likely than their non-abused and non-neglected peers to be arrested for criminal behavior? And why is that so many of those who enter our juvenile justice system either can’t afford – or do not know to ask for – access to legal guidance?
From the moment they greet us with broad smiles and outstretched hands it is clear that Jabari Booker and Mykael Riley – our tour guides for the morning – take their duties very seriously. The seventh graders enthusiastically embrace principal LaPaul Shelton’s request to show us around their school. One thing is immediately apparent: Neither of these 12-year-olds, with their closely-cropped hair and spectacles perched on their noses fit the stereotypical images of young black males that often pervade in mainstream media and popular culture. Both are thriving academically, have never had any run-ins with the law and have great relationships with their fathers. Many of their classmates at B.E.S.T. Academy, a single-gender Atlanta Public School with a student body comprised entirely of black boys, aren’t so fortunate.
Low graduation rates and a teen crime spree in Atlanta brought more than 100 community leaders and concerned citizens together for the Strengthening Families and Communities Summit Thursday. “We need to give love and support to these kids and educate them that anything is possible,” said Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, Mayor of Riverdale, Ga. She was part of a town hall meeting and her words became a theme for the day. Pamela Perkins, ICM Coordinator of the Interfaith Children’s Movement, led the School Dropout Prevention workshop, where she and other attendees got candid about the problems.
“This has to start with community support,” Perkins said. “We have got to come together and make a cohesive effort to help these children succeed in school and graduate.”
The Georgia Department of Education reports the state graduation rate at 75.4 percent.
A scarlet red electric guitar would normally seem out of place at a youth violence forum, but Monday evening the bloodstained instrument served as a symbolic reminder of a young man’s life cut short. Eighteen-year-old Blake Jimerson clutched it in homage to his fallen friend Katerius “Terry” Moody throughout the “Just Squash It” Emergency Town Hall Meeting, an event prompted in part by the murder of the Benjamin E. Mays High School graduate on June 26th at an East Point block party. The 18-year-old crooner was fatally shot during an impromptu performance; four other teens were wounded. “This is the last thing Terry had on him before he died,” Jimerson, a recent Washington High School graduate, told the audience of more than 100 about his friend who had planned to enlist in the U.S. Marines next month. “The blood is still on it.”
The meeting at B.E.S.T. Academy, an all-male middle school in Northwest Atlanta, was touted as an opportunity for Metro Atlanta youth — and those who work directly with them — to come together to propose solutions.
Eighteen-year-old Katerius Moody was in the midst of belting out a verse of the song he’d penned with fellow Polo Boys singing group members, when bullets peppered the crowd during their performance three weeks ago at an East Point block party. The young crooner, a recent Mays High School graduate, was gunned down and four other teens were wounded before he could finish the lyrics to “We Go.”
The June 26th tragedy, and others like it, have inspired an Atlanta community leader to call an emergency town hall meeting Monday, where she says “frontline” child services workers, local leaders and, more importantly, young people themselves, will get to suggest ways to curb youth violence in metro Atlanta. Atlanta Public Schools staffer Tanya Culbreth contends Moody’s death and a recent outbreak of teen violence during the popular Screen On The Green event at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park inspired her to coordinate the event. Culbreth says she wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of a similar town hall meeting Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called following the Piedmont Park incident. “I applaud the mayor for calling an emergency meeting, but there wasn’t enough representation there from young people and those of us who work directly with young people every day,” contends Culbreth, the Home-School Parent Liaison for B.E.S.T. Academy, an all-male middle school in Northwest Atlanta. “We’re the experts and more of our voices need to be heard.