Parents, mentors key, 4As learns

Rodney Long, left, 4As president emeritus, talks with Artavia Hutto, center, a former Eastside student featured in the video, and her mother, Tonicha Richardson.

BRAD McCLENNY/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 2:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 2:42 p.m.

Stakeholders from all aspects of the community shared their thoughts about the controversial "Eastside High School Movie" at a forum that included finding solutions that will help students succeed inside and outside of the classroom.

Sponsored by the African American Accountability Alliance of Alachua County, or 4As, and held Monday night at the Alachua County Health Department, the forum featured a panel that included Artavia Hutto, a former Eastside student who participated in the video, and her mother, Tonicha Richardson, both of whom said they were embarrassed about how Artavia acted and spoke in the video.

Also on the panel were Juliun Kinsey, chair of the 4As education committee; Xavier Monroe, an Eastside graduate who is now a senior at the University of Florida, and the Rev. Kevin Thorpe, pastor of Faith Church.

The video features mostly African-American students using profanity, dancing provocatively, disrespecting teachers, expressing their dislike for food served in the cafeteria, fighting, showing off their tattoos and bragging about their buttocks, while also featuring some students who acted and talked sensibly.

After viewing the 15-minute movie, the nearly 100 residents attending listened to remarks by the panel and shared their thoughts about what can be done to help students.

Almost everyone who spoke said students — and even some parents — need mentors.

Thorpe said it is the responsibility of adults in the community to be more involved in the lives of children.

Rodney Long, a former Alachua County commissioner and founder of the 4As, also talked about the importance of adults sharing the responsibility of raising children.

"If we look at the way we are raising children in the village today, we have a problem with parenting, and parenting in the 21st century is not the same as it was in the 20th century." Long said.

John Alexander, executive director of the Reichert House Youth Academy, spoke passionately about the need for adults to be actively engaged in the lives of children. He said young people feel betrayed by adults.

"I will tell you that one of the things that have turned off this generation is a lack of commitment from adults," Alexander said. "We fail to keep our promises. We ride by them every day in our nice cars going to our nice homes. We watch the have-nots sit on the corner with their pants sagging and won't go to Walmart and buy them a belt."

Thorpe said he was surprised to learn the video was filmed, for the most part, while students were under the supervision of school staff. In fact, Artavia said her segment was filmed in class with a teacher present. She also said that although the behavior depicted in the video doesn't happen at Eastside every day, "it happens a lot."

Artavia said her comments in the video were about a teacher at the school and not the school itself.

"Yeah, it was disrespectful, but it was the truth," said Artavia, adding that she had no idea that Darrin Gillins, the former Eastside student who produced the video, was going to post it on YouTube.

Richardson said she was upset when she saw the video, but she credited Artavia with telling her about the video before she found out otherwise.

"I was really embarrassed because I didn't raise her that way," Richardson said. "‘Oh my gosh' was my immediate response."

Brandon Johnson, a student at Gainesville High School, said the behavior in the video does not happen at Eastside alone. He said similar behavior can be found in the halls at GHS every day, with the only difference being that no student has made a movie with an iPhone and posted it on YouTube.

Although they couldn't actively participate because of legalities, numerous representatives from the school district attended the forum. They were: Superintendent Dan Boyd; Eastside principal Jeff Charbonnet; Eastside assistant principal James Sheppard; Eastside dean Jacquelene Polke; Hershel Lyons, deputy superintendent for human resources; Philoron Wright, assistant superintendent for community and school relations, and school board members Leanetta McNealy, Gunnar Paulson and Eileen Roy. McNealy and Paulson are members of the 4As.

Boyd and Charbonnet said they are thrilled the community recognizes the need for mentors and more parent involvement.

"I'm glad I came tonight, and I think there is a lot of renewed commitment on the part of people in the audience who want to really get involved and truly mentor youngsters," Boyd said. "Hopefully, from this, we will be able to develop a plan that will enable security, high ideals and expectations so all of our children can be successful."

Charbonnet said the doors at Eastside are open to mentors.

"I was very encouraged that there were so many people who wanted to get involved with mentoring, especially with either being mentors of recruiting mentors, because we know that mentoring works when we build positive, committed relationships with young people," he said.

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