Encourage this grassroots effort

Published 2:54 pm Friday, December 31, 2010

Perhaps if Suffolk schools had more actual “BFFs” — Best Friends Forever, in the parlance of today’s youth — there would be less of a need for the system to promote a new BFF program developed by the city’s Community Action Coalition in coordination with students, faculty and school administrators.

Sadly, however, violence inside or associated with Suffolk schools has become an alarming problem. From a neighborhood melee filmed and then featured on YouTube to the murders of two members of Lakeland High School’s football team, the past year has been an especially ugly one when it comes to youth violence. Folks in the community can hardly help but wonder whether there is some underlying value that has been twisted in the youth to create the sorrowful situation that now exists.

A group of those worried folks has worked tirelessly for several months to create the Community Action Coalition, and that organization’s first order of business has been to create and market to the school system the BFF — “Be Fight Free” — concept. To its credit, the Suffolk School Board wasted little time in joining the effort.

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Throughout the month of January in Suffolk’s public schools, there will be rallies and other special events, along with speeches, op-ed pieces, artistic presentations and other programs. Most of those programs have been designed and choreographed by students themselves, with minimal guidance from the adult members of the Coalition.

Clearly, the students themselves see the toll of gang-related violence in some parts of Suffolk. And it is not hard for anyone to imagine violent crime growing in its influence on the city’s youth without some intervention by both Suffolk’s residents and officials.

The city, whose Office on Youth and its Youth Advisory Council would seem to have a vested interest in the success of the BFF campaign, should get behind the Coalition and its plans both symbolically and tangibly. Symbolic support could be in the form of City Council resolutions and concurrent campaigns sponsored by the Office on Youth, both of which could occur with a minimal effort on the part of Suffolk’s administration and council.

Somewhat trickier, but no less important, would be municipal financial support. The rallies that are planned this month — and the efforts that organizers hope will follow throughout the year — will all have some costs associated with them. Suffolk’s City Council would do its constituents a service by helping to fund at least a portion of those costs. The funding would necessarily take place outside of the budget cycle, but this broad-based, grassroots effort to intervene on behalf of the city’s youth would seem to be exactly the kind of thing Suffolk officials should encourage, even at the expense of a few thousand dollars worth of discretionary funds.