Be Fight Free campaign inspires

Published 10:13 pm Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fight Free: The Lakeland High School Be Fight Free Campaign committee poses for a picture following the Be Fight Free Rally. Front row, from left, Diedra Dokes, Be Fight Free Campaign committee sponsor Deshonna Johnson, and Gabrielle Durand. Back row, from left, Jaquan Demiel, Devin Keel, Johnny Wilson, Bryan Washington, Denzel Brown, Devon Dunston, Jessica March, and Andrew Williams.

Lakeland High School took its first steps toward change on Thursday.

The student body has suffered several major losses in recent years. With the 2010 homicides of TyQuan Lewis and Michael Lee and the past murders of former classmates Deshawn Parker, Dwayne Langston, and Diane Holland, the student body at Lakeland High School and other Suffolk schools are looking for healing and change.

Because of Suffolk Public Schools’ recent decision to support the efforts of the Community Action Coalition and the Be Fight Free Initiative, Suffolk high school students are hosting events to encourage their classmates to abstain from violence.

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Lakeland High School held its Be Fight Free rally Thursday, an event intended to kick off the Be Fight Free Campaign in each of the participating schools. Lakeland is the first of the high schools to hold this event, following Turlington Woods Alternative School’s event that was held on Jan 7.

“This is about changing a culture,” said Bob Stephens, Coalition facilitator. “It is a culture that lends itself to random violence.”

The Be Fight Free movement is a student-led movement that is expected to have great results. Though it’s beginning in the schools, the initiative is expected to have a ripple effect in the community.

“I believe it’s going to have a big influence,” said Andrew Williams, Lakeland senior and member of the Be Fight Free Campaign committee at Lakeland. “I believe it got the message across based on how [the student body] reacted. The were very attentive.”

Williams and other students worked with DeShonna Johnson, Be Fight Free Committee sponsor, and Sara Sims, drama teacher, to organize the skits, PowerPoint presentations, agenda, props and speeches for Lakeland’s BFF Rally.

The students will continue working to organize upcoming events for violence prevention week, and monthly events so that the campaign can continue throughout the school year.

“If we can reach just a couple of students, then those students will reach a couple of students and we will go from there,” Johnson said. “The students worked very hard and they are committed to spreading this campaign.”

“I didn’t want to see the face of another one of our students on the news for violence,” said Diedra Dokes, senior and member of the Be Fight Free Campaign committee.

Dokes said she is working so that her younger brothers who will be coming to Lakeland won’t feel like they need to fight to prove themselves and won’t have to feel afraid to come to school.

Dokes and Williams were friends of both TyQuan Lewis and Michael Lee.

“They were both genuinely nice,” said Dokes, who at one time shared a locker with Lewis. “You could talk to them about anything. They had open arms and didn’t discriminate with friends.”

“I had a personal connection with it,” said Williams, explaining why he wanted to be involved with the BFF committee. Williams had been friends with both Michael Lee and TyQuan Lewis since childhood, and even shared a limousine with Lewis to last year’s prom.

“I’m trying to prevent others from getting involved in the same situation,” Williams said.

Dokes explained she is embarrassed at times to tell people she attends Lakeland because of the violence.

“Violence, guns, and drugs are unnecessary,” she said. “It’s ridiculous to find out how much the people in school would do.”

“I hope Suffolk wakes up,” Williams added. “Not just Suffolk, but I hope that the world wakes up. It hurts inside and out.”

The impact of the BFF Rally could be seen in the cafeteria, as students lined up to sign “Be Fight Free” pledge cards and to get Be Fight Free wristbands and buttons.

“I was deeply moved by it. It made me look at things differently through different eyes and in a different light,” sophomore Justin Chambliss as he signed his pledge card.