Black prosecutors share life lessons
First row, l to r: Lita Thompson, vice principal; Melba Pearson, Ronald Dowdy, Gera Peoples, Sgts. Lewis and Pierre, Gregory Bethune, principal. Back row, l to r: Markenzy Lapointe, Bruce Brown and Brian Kirlew. Not pictured: Pastor Carl Johnson.
By Attorney Melba Pearson
This past week, the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA) hosted a series of panel discussions entitled “Real Talk: Lessons Learned from Trayvon Martin”. The panels were geared towards young African American men attending high school and middle school. Both Atlanta and Miami held these discussions in recognition of the two year anniversary of the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin.
Six high schools in Atlanta participated, including Benjamin Banneker, and Southwest Dekalb High.
In Miami, 75 male students of color at Miami Central High School engaged in small group discussions on the topics of Crime, Consequences, and Options. The Crime panel included Miami-Dade Police Department Homicide Det. Closel Pierre, who talked about seeing the tragedies that violence brings on a daily basis. Federal prosecutor and NBPA National President Bruce Brown hammered home the importance of finding a positive influence. “My positive influence was my mom; one, because I was afraid of her, and two because I didn’t want to let her down.” Sgt. Lewis of the Miami-Dade Police Crime Suppression Team opened up about his own challenges of growing up in a tough area. His focus during his youth was on sports activities. Lewis reminded the boys that “nothing short term is going to last. Where would I be if I had let people talk me into hanging out in-stead of going to practice? Don’t let peer pressure get the best of you.”
The Consequences panel featured a state prosecutor, a federal prosecutor, and a public defender. This panel encouraged the young men to think a-bout the consequences of their actions, and what the repercussions can be of being in the criminal justice system. Brian Kirlew, a public defender, echoed the sentiments of staying away from crime, but also told the boys, “America is a very forgiving place if you are willing to change your behavior. Don’t let past mistakes hold you back.” Federal Prosecutor Gera Peoples took a different tactic, by informing the boys of the realities of going to prison. “Think about the consequences to your family,” he implored.
The last panel, Options, included a stirring message from Pastor Carl Johnson of the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church, and Mark Lapointe, partner at the firm Boies, Schiller and Flexner, LLP. Pastor Johnson rallied the boys to action, stating, “Your ways determine your walk; get your personality on track, and don’t leave high school without a plan.” On the topic of violence he stated, “If you are confronted with violence, do not let someone draw you out of your personality and lead you down the path of wrong. Stand firm in who you are and walk away.”
Much like some students, a number of the speakers came from single parent families – but found success through positive role models. The message that was reiterated by all of the speakers was access. As the event closed, Principal Bethune informed the boys that all of the speakers agreed to be avail-able at any time in the future to give guidance, and answer questions.
The event was an over-whelming success, and will be repeated in Miami schools throughout the next few weeks. This program is critical to bringing encouragement to young men that are often labeled and forgotten.
Melba Pearson is an attorney in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @ResLegalDiva. She is also the Southeast Regional Director for the National Black Prosecutors Association. For more information about NBPA go to www.blackprosecutors.org.