Empowering Today’s Youth

By Savanna Kearney

It’s been one year since the Parkland school shooting, and yet it seems that little has changed in terms of peer violence. There have been seven shootings across the Jacksonville community just this past weekend, four of which were fatal. While school shootings are often discussed by adults, it is the generation most affected by these tragedies that are taking a stand.

(From left) Rodney Wells, Savannah LeNoble and Winston Peele. (photo by Savanna Kearney/St. Augustine Catholic)

OneJax Institute, an interfaith organization dedicated to respect and inclusiveness, hosted a panel Tuesday, Feb. 19, titled, “Lifting Up Young Voices Against Violence” as part of an ongoing Civil Discourse series. While the panel included three local professionals, the focus was on the other three panel members, who have a lot to say on the subject of gun violence: high school students.

Savannah LeNoble, a Wolfson High School student and local March for Our Lives organizer and Rodney Wells, a University Christian School student and founder of Young Leaders of Today were members of the panel, as well as Bishop Kenny High School student Winston Peele, who was recently recognized as First Coast News’ STEM Student of the Week.

After small group table discussions, the panel began with a conversation about what it is like to be a member of the “lockdown generation:” growing up in an age when school shootings are the norm.

“My first thought when I get to school is how would I escape this classroom if there were a shooting,” said LeNoble.

From the professional side of the panel, the discussion turned to the root causes of violence in and outside of school and what steps could be taken to form a solution. The members of the panel were in agreement that one of the most urgent needs to remedy this issue is funding for youth programs, such as music, art and theater which often take the backseat to STEM subjects and sports. Another simple solution discussed is to empower the youth who are being affected to share their story and make a change.

“It seems to me that nothing ever changes, so students stop caring,” said Wells.

Winston Peele shares his thoughts on peer violence at the discussion panel. (photo by Savanna Kearney/St. Augustine Catholic)

Although the mentality that children should be “seen and not heard” is certainly outdated, today’s youth speaking up for themselves and their peers is a fairly new concept for some. But during the panel, Kids Hope Alliance CEO Joe Peppers urged the use of “shared decision-making” in which today’s young people are included in overall discussions of civil issues and policy-making.

According to Bishop Kenny student Winston Peele, young people are quick to take these civil issues to social media, which can be effective, but there’s more to be done.

“What action are we taking?” he said.

To learn more about OneJax, visit https://www.unf.edu/onejax/.