Be Fight Free — Saving the Children

Published 9:55 pm Saturday, February 5, 2011

By Robert E. Stephens

“Be the Change you want to see in the world”

—Mahatma Ghandi

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“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal”

—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Suffolk officials feel helpless to stop violence”

—Virginian-Pilot article dated Jan. 20, 2006.

Helpless” in no way describes student leaders from the city’s alternative school and three high schools who took action this month and proved that a little creativity, compassion for their peers and a will to live are the first steps to solving a problem.

With the support of a partnership forged between the Community Action Coalition and Suffolk Public Schools, January was designated as “Violence Prevention Month,” providing a platform for the students to kick-off the BFF (Be Fight Free) campaign.

The youth-driven campaign represents a well-coordinated and organized movement where students are taking ownership and responsibility to end violence throughout the city. The students’ action responds to more than five years of complaints from citizens as youth violence increased, while officials admittedly felt “helpless.”

Moreover, the campaign is also indicative that not only can one person make a difference, but also that real results are produced through collaboration, partnership and a willful desire to demonstrate courage, creativity and commitment.

The youth-driven rallies achieved their intended purpose of raising consciousness and awareness of violent incidents in and out-of-school. An average of 15 young people are killed each day in the United States — 80 percent with handguns — and 30 percent of students are targets of other forms of violence, including assaults and bullying.

Local statistics indicate that during the past three years, there have been nearly 200 cases of disorderly conduct, 18 assaults and 50 fights at Lakeland High School, and that an average of two to three fights occur per week among the three high schools.

The rallies and activities not only provided opportunities for emotional closure, but also set in motion various strategies to prevent future violent incidents. Armed with love, talents, daily experiences and care for their peers, Suffolk’s youth are taking the campaign to the streets to Be Fight Free!

Your support and help in spreading the message is essential to the campaign’s continued success.

Full support for the BFF campaign presents Suffolk citizens the opportunity to break through complacency and apathy, while also taking a proactive and progressive stand to create an empowering, safe and nurturing community.

The youth have already demonstrated that a radical departure from mediocrity, lack of will and the status quo can turn a “helpless” situation into action and help change a culture. Just as the school administrators willingly took a risk, exhibited courage and declared their intention to eliminate violence, this youth-driven, citywide campaign demands unconditional support from citizens, city officials, faith-based leaders and the business community.

Charter Communications and Crewestone Media Group have already pledged corporate support that will help fuel and energize the campaign by delivering anti-violence messages created by the youth.

The BFF campaign committee is moving full speed ahead with its efforts to connect with other youth groups throughout the city. In order to change a cultural paradigm that provides peaceful alternatives to resolving conflicts, opportunities for behavioral changes must be accessible to those most affected.

It is a foregone conclusion that youth behavior, upbringing and training is the sum total of the adults in their lives; therefore, the community has a responsibility to help all youth achieve success and excellence. Children should be able to strive and not just survive, as excellence is not just an option.

Finally, the city administration has joined in the partnership with the Coalition and Suffolk Public Schools to support the campaign in its efforts to connect the various youth groups throughout the city.

In keeping with the city’s key “stakeholder” role and a direct vested interest in the success of this citywide initiative, such a strategic alliance will serve to build both symbolic and tangible relationships.

The first meeting between the BFF Campaign Committee and the Suffolk Youth Advisory Council is already scheduled, and additional joint endeavors are being planned to include youth throughout the city. Support in the form of council resolutions and concurrent campaigns sponsored by the Office on Youth also is expected. It is this spirit of cooperation and collaboration that will achieve measurable results and a successful comprehensive strategy.

The BFF (Be Fight Free) campaign is about saving children, and delaying commonsense solutions is not an option. We look forward to your overwhelming and long term support!

Robert E. Stephens is a local businessman and social entrepreneur. He is also co-founder and facilitator of the Community Action Coalition of Suffolk and can be reached at 757-255-4060.