BR teens open up about youth violence at BRAVE panel

It took about an hour of prodding and preaching from local leaders speaking about teen violence Wednesday morning before a group of several dozen students began to speak up inside the library at Capitol High School.

Once comfortable, the students opened up about the reasons some of their peers seek triggers to solve their problems.

Some arm themselves for protection, the students said, while others value the credibility they earn on “the street” after committing acts of violence. When asked whether it would be easy to obtain a gun, about half the hands in the room shot up.

The panel discussion, put on by the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project, aimed to educate teens about the consequences of violent crime while also serving as a forum for the students to ask BRAVE officials about their efforts to reduce youth violence in the capital city region.

“How can we as a community come together to clean up teen violence?” one student asked.

In response, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden offered a wide range of remedies, including expressing more love and respect for one another and focusing on emotional control.

“You have to have self-control,” Holden said. “You have to be able to walk away.”

Several city-parish leaders, including Holden and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, reflected on their own childhood to relay the importance of parents, faith and education in determining the outcome of young people’s lives. The average education level of inmates incarcerated at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison is seventh grade, Gautreaux said.

“It’s not easy, a lot of times, to make the right choice,” Gautreaux said, adding that Parish Prison is filled with people who made the wrong one.

BRAVE officials, including Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, encouraged teens to get involved in extra-curricular activities, a message echoed by the discussion’s moderator, Dr. Rani G. Winfield, also known as “Tha Hip Hop Doc.”

“We want to celebrate birthdays and stop attending funerals,” Winfield said.

Alean Thomas, who buried her son last January after he was shot to death in the driveway of her Washington Avenue home, said she is preparing for her second Mother’s Day without him.

“The only person that can stop this killing is God,” Thomas said. “We all need to come together and pray.”

Darrien Clark, 18, who plans on studying engineering at LSU next fall, said surroundings play an important role in determining future actions.

“If you keep your mind focused on the positive things, then you won’t have time to focus on negative things,” said Clark, a football, basketball and track athlete who hopes to walk on to LSU’s football team.

Some students who took part in the discussion voiced the opinion that some of their peers don’t respect achievements on a playing field or in a classroom — just those on “the street.”

But others, such as Javonte Rogers, disagreed.

The 18-year-old who hopes to study marine biology and play football at Nicholls State University next fall said he recently ran into some old neighborhood friends who he described as “hood.”

To his surprise, they encouraged him to do well in school and strive for success so that he wouldn’t end up living like them, Rogers said.

“I didn’t know people like you cared about that,” he recalled saying.