Mentoring stressed at forum on Eastside


Rodney Long, president emeritus of the African American Accountability Alliance, talks with the panel during a community forum to discuss the "Eastside High School Movie," and how to respond to it as a community, held at the Alachua County Health Department in Gainesville Monday March 4, 2013.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 10:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 10:52 p.m.

John Alexander started to get louder as he addressed the crowd of about 100 about mentoring youth.

As executive director of the Reichert House, Alexander passionately shared his thoughts on how he deals with many young men who need guidance from a community that he feels is lacking just that.

“One of the things that has turned off this generation is the lack of commitment from adults,” he said.

Alexander was in the audience at the Alachua County Health Department on Monday night, where the African American Accountability Alliance hosted a community forum to discuss the Eastside High School Movie, a nearly 15-minute video produced by Eastside students and posted to YouTube that has stirred controversy.

The movie features students speaking candidly about their feelings about Eastside in comments laced with profanity and racial epithets, as well as footage of campus fights and students disrupting class. The video also features clips of students showing off their tattoos, complimenting Eastside and dancing to rap music.

The 4As organized the forum after catching wind of the video a few weeks ago. Parents, students and school officials were all in attendance Monday, where lack of mentorship was a major theme of the discussion.

The evening started with a screening of the movie, after which a panel discussion guided by 4As president emeritus Rodney Long got the conversation started.

The Rev. Kevin Thorpe of the Faith Church said he sees problems with multiple generations of young mothers trying to raise children before they're ready.

“We've got to stop this paradigm of babies trying to raise babies,” he said.

Juliun Kinsey, chair of the 4As education committee and a current college student who plans to be a teacher, said many parents who work two or more jobs have trouble giving their students the support they need.

He spoke from experience, saying he spent a lot of time alone at home as his single mother worked to support the family.

“There would be a week at a time where I wouldn't see my mom,” he said.

Eastside graduate Xavier Monroe pointed toward the youngest students in elementary school as the starting point to guide students.

“I believe students need mentors,” he said. “They need advisors … We have to start in elementary school.”

Gainesville High School student Brandon Johnson said peer mentorship could go a long way because students often respond better to people their own age.

Some speakers questioned the clarity of the student code of conduct with regard to the punishment handed down to the students involved in the video.

Artavia Hutto, one of the students who appeared in the video, said she was sorry for her derogatory comments about one of her teachers. She said she was suspended for three days for her involvement in the video.

Hutto's mother, Tonicha Richardson, said she and her daughter were asked to sign a contract in order to stay at Eastside.

Richardson said they would have had to agree that Hutto would be expelled for any level offense and any unexcused absence or tardy.

Mother and daughter did not sign the contract they said, and Hutto is now seeking her GED because health problems prevent her from enrolling in another high school.

Eastside Principal Jeff Charbonnet said he could not comment on any student's discipline record because of student privacy laws, but he said the discipline process could involve a contract.

“It could involve a parental communication piece in place between the school, the teacher and the parent,” he said. “It could involve getting the parent and the student to make some commitment, in the form of a contract, to positive behaviors in the future … You have to try to use discipline as a teaching and behavior modification tool.”

School Board member Gunnar Paulson said he could not speak to the issue of people questioning the clarity of the conduct code, but he said if the people wanted the School Board to look at it, the board would.

The majority of the evening, people reiterated the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, and notes were taken as part of the plan to present the School Board with an action plan to help the community.

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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