Making a pledge

Published 10:47 pm Friday, January 21, 2011

Rally: Front row, from left, Victoria Atkins and Taylor Davis, students at King’s Fork High School, give each other five wearing their Be Fight Free bracelets as a symbol of friendship and non-violence. While Caleb Pittman, left and Debretta Coleman, members of the Be Fight Free Campaign Committee stand ready to hand out more BFF bracelets and pins. King’s Fork High School held its BFF Rally yesterday to kick off the Be Fight Free Campaign.

BFF Rally begins a new phase in campaign

Dressed in purple, the student Be Fight Free campaign committee addressed their fellow students with a solemn message — end violence before it ends you.

“Violence happens everywhere,” Whitney Nichols, senior and member of the campaign committee, said while addressing her fellow students at King’s Fork High School. “It’s not something to play around with.”

The BFF rally represents the beginning of the campaign at each Suffolk high school. The student-led campaign is a project of the Community Action Coalition of Suffolk.

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After Friday’s rally at King’s Fork, students pledged to support the campaign during lunch.

“It affected a lot of people in the audience,” said Tyree Jennings, a junior. “You could hear the sniffling and crying of all the people affected by it.”

The rally included a presentation by Michael Powell, a parole officer with Suffolk Court Services. The presentation centered on the murders of former classmates and friends, including Lakeland High School students TyQuan Lewis and Michael Lee.

Powell also told the story of a young man that he watched grow up in his neighborhood, who went from being a positive citizen to constantly being under the influence of drugs. One day Powell chased the young man, named Michael, from a home where he knew he didn’t belong, only to find out that Michael had partially decapitated the woman inside the home.

Powell revealed later on that the woman that Michael killed was Powell’s aunt.

Powell explained to an audience stunned into silence, “It only takes one second to alter every good decision you’ve made in your life.”

“Every choice has a consequence,” he added. “School is supposed to be a time when you make lifelong friendships. Be positive, be encouraged and take the advice of your classmates and be violence free.”

Each of the Be Fight Free campaign committee members at King’s Fork High School was specifically selected by Principal Suzanne Moore to take part in organizing the campaign. Moore selected a diverse group of students because of their leadership qualities, their varied backgrounds and their character.

“I looked for student leaders, kids respected by their peers from all walks of life,” she said. “I thought that was important. It’s an important message to get out to students.”

Moore explained that it is the responsibility of educators to teach not only academics, but also character. And in this case, the students learn about character from fellow students.

“Something’s got to happen. Something’s got to change,” Moore said.

The King’s Fork High School BFF Rally was the last of the rallies to be held at the Suffolk high schools. The next phase of the campaign revolves around reaching the community and building the campaign.

“In order to change the culture, we have to reach folks affected by violence and committing violence,” said Robert Stephens, facilitator for the Community Action Coalition of Suffolk. “It’s about changing behavior.”

The next phase consists of connecting with other youth groups to get the word out, students continuing to promote the program in the community, getting corporate support to drive the campaign and implement the mentoring component as well as prevention and intervention programs, Stephens said.

“Bullying and violence are unnecessary,” said Aaron Barnes, a junior who was friends with both Michael Lee and TyQuan Lewis. “I want to be able to help [others]. I want to pledge for myself as well. I want to become a beacon of light to someone else to reach out to other people who don’t know how serious it is to lose a loved one.”