Coalition living up to its name

Published 9:52 pm Saturday, October 16, 2010

A newly-formed coalition made recommendations to the School Board on Thursday night that it hopes will put a dent in two grave issues threatening students’ futures.

Members of the Community Action Coalition, Robert Stephens and David Mitnick, gave presentations about an existing program to help student athletes they hope will be brought to the schools, as well as a suggestion for a non-violence rally to help garner support from the board and public.

“I personally think this is a great start to an issue that started quite a while back,” board member Michael Debranski said in response to the presentations. “We can’t just talk about violence and the problems facing our students. We need to make recommendations and take action.”

The coalition was formed in August to coordinate the efforts and ideas of community adult and youth leaders, business executives, nonprofit and foundation directors, philanthropists, academics and religious leaders who are moving beyond discussion and taking action to respond to social challenges in the areas of youth, violence, economic empowerment and education.

Its plan to initiate a youth-led “Be Fight Free” non-violence rally came from Stephens, father of a high school student whose Facebook feed he read after the shooting of a local teen.

“I saw a lot of fear, anxiety and frustration,” Stephens said outside Thursday’s meeting. “They didn’t feel adults were taking care of them. That’s the energy driving this campaign.”

All that is needed for the rally is planning and assembly time at schools.

It is the coalition’s hope that the rally will connect students with the city-run programs aimed at diminishing teen violence and jump-start a long-lasting campaign against “local terrorism,” Stephens said.

“Students are capable of pulling together large groups of kids for a purpose,” Stephens said. “We’ve seen it after the deaths of Michael Lee and TyQuan Lewis. What if they pulled together for a proactive solution instead of a reaction to a tragedy? Now, that could be powerful.”

Its plan to help student athletes who are not academically eligible for available scholarships is to apply for a Redskins Charitable Foundation program, “Coaches in the Classroom.”

“This is a program that has become very near and dear to me,” said Mitnick, who has worked as a student counselor in the past. “It will assist athletes trying to get into college, but also others at the other end of spectrum.”

Mitnick noted that if there is room in the classes, other students on probation or with academic issues could benefit from its services.

The program would be implemented in all three high schools and have advisors who would assist students in meeting GED, SAT and other academic benchmarks.

The program come with a $15,000 grant from the foundation to put on the program, but it must be matched with funds, which Mitnick said the coalition would pay for through fundraisers or donations.

The coalition hopes to submit its grant application by October for the program.

“We have a subcommittee working on the grant application and want you to be aware of something that will come before you for action in the future,” Mitnick said.

While the coalition may only be a few months old, it is showing that it can live up to its name.

“We are not a program or a service provider,” Stephens said. “We’re a catalyst for solutions. We’re tired of talking and that’s what we’ve been hearing from others. It so happens we have these issues in front of us. It’s about getting public support and moving forward.”