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First row L-R: Miami Central Vice Principal Lita Thompson, Melba Pearson, Ronald Dowdy, Gera Peoples, Sgts Louis and Pierre, Principal Gregory Bethune.
Back row: Markenzy Lapointe, Bruce Brown and Brian Kirlew
Not pictured: Pastor Carl Johnson.
This past week, the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA) hosted a series of panel discussions entitled “Real Talk: Lessons Learned from Trayvon Martin”. The panels were geared towards young African American men attending high school and middle school. Both Atlanta and Miami held these discussions in recognition of the two year anniversary of the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. Six high schools in Atlanta participated, including Benjamin Banneker, and Southwest Dekalb High.
In Miami, 75 male students of color at Miami Central High School engaged in small group
discussions on the topics of Crime, Consequences, and Options. The Crime panel included
Miami-Dade Police Department Homicide Det. Closel Pierre, who talked about seeing the
tragedies that violence brings on a daily basis. Federal prosecutor and NBPA National
President Bruce Brown hammered home the importance of finding a positive influence. “My positive influence was my mom. One, because I was afraid of her, and two because I didn’t want to let her down.” Sgt. Greg Louis of the Miami-Dade Police Crime Suppression Team opened up about his own challenges of growing up in a tough area. His focus during his youth was on sports activities. Sgt. Louis reminded the boys that “nothing short term is going to last. Where would I be if I had let people talked me into hanging out instead of going to practice? Don’t let peer pressure get the best of you”.
The Consequences panel featured a state prosecutor, a federal prosecutor, and a public
defender. This panel encouraged the young men to think about the consequences of their
actions, and what the repercussions can be of being in the criminal justice system. Brian
Kirlew, a public defender, echoed the sentiments of staying away from crime, but also told the boys “America is a very forgiving place if you are willing to change your behavior. Don’t let past mistakes hold you back”. Federal prosecutor Gera Peoples took a different tactic, by informing the boys of the realities of going to prison. “Think about the consequences to your family”, he implored.
The last panel, Options, included a stirring message from Pastor Carl Johnson of the 93rd
Street Community Baptist Church, and Mark Lapointe, partner at the firm Boies, Schiller and Flexner, LLP. Pastor Johnson rallied the boys to action, stating “your ways determine your walk; get your personality on track, and don’t leave high school without a plan.” On the topic of violence he stated ” if you are confronted with violence, do not let someone draw you out of your personality and lead you down the path of wrong. Stand firm in who you are and walk away”.
Much like some students, a number of the speakers came from single parent families — but
found success through positive role models. The message that was reiterated by all of the
speakers was access. As the event closed, Principal Bethune informed the boys that all of the speakers agreed to be available at any time in the future to give guidance, and answer
The event was an overwhelming success, and will be repeated in Miami schools throughout the next few weeks. This program is critical to bringing encouragement to young men that are often labelled and forgotten.
Melba Pearson is an attorney in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @ResLegalDiva.
She is also the Southeast Regional Director for the National Black Prosecutors Association. For more information about NBPA go to http://www.blackprosecutors.org.