By Wesley Martin
“Our youth have rights,” said Celestine Lewis, director of the Jacqueline Harris Preparatory Academy. “But with rights come responsibility.”
Last Thursday, March 29, a community meeting was held at the Zion Hope Primitive Baptist Church for youth of Escambia County. According to Lewis, coordinator for Thursday’s event, the meeting’s main objective was to educate children and teens of their rights.
“A lot of emphasis was placed on what to do when stopped by an officer and how to stay safe,” Lewis said. “… Due to the fact that police officers have a lot of authority,” she continued, “I want all of our youth to be safe by knowing what to do and how to react.”
At Thursday’s event, many officers were present from the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and the Pensacola Police Department and spoke to the audience of over 300 people on how to properly interact with law enforcement.
Tracy Johnson, an Escambia County resident and mother of two, said events like these are insightful.
“Some of the things that [one of the officers] stated with the hand gestures and motions really hit home,” Johnson said. “Even though you may be talking calm, if you give the wrong body language, it can be perceived as aggression … this can put [children] in a dangerous situation.”
Johnson said while some teens are accustomed to being expressive with their hands, they don’t know, and can’t control, how their mannerisms will be interpreted.
During the event skits were performed by volunteers showcasing “real life” interactions with law enforcement officials.
Lavell Lewis, 28, a volunteer at Harris Prep and facilitator over the skit portion of the program, said he recently had an interaction with a police officer and realized he needed to educate himself.
“I got pulled over and I realized that I didn’t know my rights,” Lavell said. “I let him search me and all.” Though he didn’t know his rights, Lavell said he did one important thing: keep his cool.
“The main thing is to stay calm,” he said.
Celestine Lewis added that the skits helped get the large audience involved.
“If something was wrong,” she said, “we talked about attitude, gestures and mannerisms.”
While Lewis believes events like these are greatly needed, she said a child’s biggest influencer are their parents.
“I hope to raise the awareness of our parents that they must get involved in the lives of their children,” she said. “That’s all I’m about. They’ve got to get involved in a positive way. Don’t wait until the school or somebody else comes to you. It starts in the home.”