Students Hold Panel On African American Teen Criminalization

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Metro Public School students and city leaders met Thursday night to discuss violence happening in the African American youth community.

Students from Hume-Fogg Academic put on the panel discussion. Junior Taylor Gentry, 16, lives in North Nashville. Gentry said her friends are tired of seeing shootings happen within the young black community. She said she sees some of the violence like suspensions and expulsions in her community are generated from social media activities.

Gentry also mentioned students are concerned with the number of shootings occurring.

"Whatever our panelist suggest we should do, and if we can do it in our own power, we're going to do it in our own special way to bring about change in our African American youth community," she said.

The four panelists included  Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph, District 19 Councilman Freddie O'Connell, Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway, and Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson.

Calloway, who has served in the juvenile court system since 1998, said although crime as a whole has gone down since her start, a new problem has come up.

"I think the seriousness is something that really concerns me. I think this year alone we've had more murder cases dealing with youth in a short period of time than we've had in some time," she said.

All four panelists encouraged students to stay in school, choose friends wisely and look for role models.

"These students got to know that the adults are here to help them. And they got to know that in every part of this community, there are people who are willing to give of them selves to help them to get to their goals and dreams," Dr. Shawn Joseph said.

"Nashville is working hard to look at our suspension rates, for all students but particularly African American students. The fact is, when a child is suspended the likelihood of them graduating dramatically decreases," Joseph said.

He also addressed the concern that there are fewer African American males leading students within the classroom.

Police Chief Steve Anderson encouraged students to take roles as positive role models within their classroom.

"And if you look at the adults in this room, everyone here would tell you there was someone in their life who gave them that hope, that showed the opportunities out there and set expectations," he said.

The final message shared was about hope and the panelists encouraged teens to think about one day becoming a leader in their community.

In 2015, there were 20 teen homicides in Nashville and last year there were 12. The teens and city leaders are hoping to reduce that statistic even more this year.

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