MULTIMEDIA: For a video clip from the third day of the assembly, click here.
Violence. Gangs. Bullying. Suicide. These are heavy topics that even adults would think twice about addressing. But a group of Rockdale County High School students decided not only to take them on, but to address them over three days
For their annual assembly during Black History Month, the Girls in Focus to Succeed (GIFTS) club created and assembled three days of performances, skits, dances, testimony and speakers to address violence and gangs, bullying and suicide, and on the third day, to rally and celebrate.
After the back-to-back incidents of the GameStop shooting and losing an RCHS student at a house party shooting last fall, the students felt like they needed to do something to change the way things were going, said advisor Monica Baros.
“We said, ‘OK, that’s enough. We feel like we need to give something more powerful than a show. Doing this, we need to be more on their level,” said Baros.
“These are the topics students at my school face,” said GIFTS president Christina Battle. Students write comments on the wall about suicide, and they’re bullied and in gangs, she said. “Students are afraid to say and speak out what they really want to say,” especially to parents and teachers, she said.
Speakers on the first day included Rodney Reid, a former gangbanger who now visits schools in the Dekalb County and metro Atlanta area to warn students about that lifestyle. “I’m just trying to give back and maybe save some lives,” he said.
On the second day, students spoke about their own experiences with bullying and suicide.
Senior Kiaria Orr spoke about her attempt in fifth grade after she was caught shoplifting.
“My mom and them were like, ‘What’d you expect. She’s just going to get pregnant, drop out of high school.’”
Orr took two bottles of antidepressants and woke up two days later in the hospital, after her little brother found her on the ground.
“I said, ‘What was the outcome of this? I hurt myself and hurt my three siblings in the process. I raised them since children… I felt like what I did was selfish because I had these children to raise and I didn’t think of how that would affect them.”
One by one, students emphasized that suicide and violence didn’t solve problems and urged each other to think of the people that cared for them, and to give a smile or support to someone else.
The third day closed with a mini-sermon from Shelby Lundy, a campus minister with Conyers First Baptist.
“You’d be amazed how this generation has the capacity to wear two faces,” he said, of the denial parents have that their children could be involved in drugs, gangs, suicide, sex, bullying and violence.
He outlined some of the reasons why movements to change falter – partly due to the conflict and discomfort changing lifestyle choices might mean. In high school, especially, most students desperately want to blend in, he said.
In wrapping up, Baros said, “We’re not just here to entertain. It’s about you and taking back the message.”
“This was a leap of faith,” she went on. “By any means necessary, change will take place.”