Micheal Johnson and Kelvon Jackson have only been in high school for a few days, but they already have big plans for the next four years.
Micheal, a 14-year-old in 9th grade at the recently-reopened Istrouma High School, hopes college scouts will take notice of his skill on the baseball diamond. Kelvon, also in 9th grade, is excited about playing high school football and being in what he calls a “real band.” The 15-year-old attends Friendship Capitol High School.
The boys agreed that to reach their goals, they’ll have to overcome challenges as they progress through high school and grow into young adults.
“I’m going to work hard and study,” Kelvon said.
He and Micheal got a dose of encouragement on Saturday at the Community Back to School Extravaganza, where hundreds of children and teenagers were given back-to-school necessities — including backpacks, school supplies and haircuts — and could visit stations that featured crafts and science activities. The event was held at the Family and Youth Service Center on Government Street, which co-hosted it along with the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination initiative.
“It’s a great way to get the kids started with a positive note for learning,” said Roxson Welch, executive director of FYSC. People at the event also heard about services available at FYSC, which is made up of representatives of 23 educational and law enforcement agencies and helps students with problems such as truancy, academic struggles and family issues.
For kids who contend with those sorts of problems, academics often are not their top priority, Welch said.
She recalled a girl who was brought to FYSC because she was having trouble in school. A police officer working at the Government Street facility discovered she lived at a home with prostitution and drug activity. The girl was the oldest of five children and often had to look after the others, Welch said.
“We saw a kid that was brought to us as a kid who was a problem child who suddenly became a child with a problem,” she said.
Not all children's families give them the support they need, so it’s important to raise awareness of community resources like those offered at FYSC, said East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III.
“These kids are not only potentially disadvantaged from that standpoint, but if you add historical racial issues, mental health, alcohol, poverty and lack of educational opportunities — you add all of that and you can understand why a 15-year-old sometimes will pull a trigger,” Moore said.
Another focus on Saturday’s event, which came in the midst of a spike in violent crime in Baton Rouge, was getting people to “see law enforcement in a different light,” Moore said.
“We’d rather put a child in school or a job than … incarcerate anyone,” he said.
Police officers, sheriff’s deputies and DA’s office employees took part in a tug-of-war competition that drew a crowd of cheering spectators that included former LSU head football coach Les Miles, who Moore said had wanted to help with BRAVE in the past but was always busy.
FYSC is preparing to open a center for teenagers on Sept. 12, where there will be space for after-school classes in technology, sewing, art, music, yoga and more taught by volunteers. Welch said she’s hopeful those activities will help the teens both learn about potential careers and develop the confidence to walk away from bad influences.
“The strength to stand on your own two feet is critical,” she said.