ST. PETERSBURG –The Zeta Upsilon Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the I Have A Dream Youth Mass Choir hosted their 2015 MLK Lecture Series entitled “Fostering a Better Image” last month.
This year’s lectures included Representative Darryl Rouson, Rene Flowers and Gwendolyn Reese; they continued the annual discussion about the life, legacy and civil rights and spiritual teachings of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
More than 130 children gathered in attendance from the AKA Akademy, the Pathfinders Program and the Professional Opportunities Program for Students.
Dr. K. Bernard Parrot of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church kicked off the morning with excellent advice. He focused on an initiative he started called FBI, or Fostering a Better Image. Disturbed by the way young black males are dying, he asked the children to remember the four Cs: Keep Calm, Cooperate, Comply and Complain.
“You cannot outrun a bullet. If you are approached by a law enforcement officer, that is not the time for an altercation,” he averred.
He then spoke about first impressions and other people’s perceptions of them. “To be respected you have to position yourself to be respected,” Parrot said letting the kids know that their Facebook page is one of many social media outlets that create an image of them.
Parrot used Trayvon Martin as an example saying that his character was on trial.
“They went back and looked at Facebook pages, school grades and other reports. Those are a part of your image so you have to be sure you present yourself as a respectable person,” he said.
Rouson spoke about the impact of image on elected officials. “If you don’t define your image, other people will,” he said explaining that as an elected official the “other people” in this instance is the media.
As an elected official, he said, he wants to project to people that he is bold, courageous, a thinker and will shake things up. “The way I do that is by how I carry myself and the issues that I choose to get involved in,” Rouson said.
He gave an example of a time when he was president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP and someone spray painted on their headquarters: “No more po po,” “Po po keep out,” “This is our territory.”
Rouson explained that he wasn’t buying into their image. He proceeded to buy a can of spray paint, called a press conference and sprayed over their graffiti with: “If you think the police department is our problem, then join the police department and change it from the inside out.”
He challenged 50 black people to become police officers. “I wanted to project an image that we support good law enforcement and I wanted to project an image that the police department didn’t just belong to white folks and wasn’t just an occupying force in the black community,” Rouson declared.
Rene Flowers, Pinellas County School Board member, spoke about the importance of the children’s image with the school board and the decisions that are made. She spoke in great length about the School to Prison Pipeline, her role in the zero tolerance policy, children taking responsibility for their actions and the importance of attending school and doing well.
“If we go on what the research says, 40 percent of African-American males will go to prison,” she said. She had all the boys in the room stand up and moments later had the back row sit down, demonstrating that the remaining children left standing would be the number of kids in room who would end up going to prison. This lesson seemed to get the attention of the children, as their disbelief and shock could be heard by all.
Flowers told the kids that they are going to prison as a direct result of the zero tolerance policy issued by school boards around the country after the Columbine tragedy. She feels the policy wasn’t meant to help, but to resolve the situation at that specific time.
The zero tolerance policy punishes any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance or extenuating circumstances. Flowers agrees that there are instances that should be considered under the policy such as bringing weapons to school or selling drugs, but others should not. This is why she has been working with Pinellas County Schools and has partnered with a municipal police agency and the sheriff’s office to change some of the punishment outlined in the policy.
“But you still don’t get a pass; you have to face the consequences.” With the revised policy, children will have the opportunity to enter into a diversion program instead of facing a criminal record that will follow them into adulthood.
Community activist Gwendolyn Reese spoke about the importance of image from a cultural and community perspective. She showed slides of proper and improper ways of grooming and slides of tattoos and piercings.
“Those shoes that are kickin’ and you love wearing them and they look good for some occasions, they are not appropriate for others. The image you are projecting may not be the image you want to project or it may not be the way you want to be seen,” she said.
She informed the young ladies and young men that employees and college administrators look at Facebook and other social media outlets to make decisions.
“You’ll walk in that interview, you’ll be dressed appropriately and say all the right things, but they also know that you are projecting an image in that moment. But is that who you really are,” she asked.
“Our history is phenomenal we come from strong courageous proud people who many times commanded respect and still should. That’s your responsibility now. You are the future. It is very important to know your history, accept and embrace it and project it,” Reese said.
Workshops were then conducted with by Jazmine Clarke of Hillsborough County Schools and Judge Patrice Moore of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court. Guess speakers included Drs. Jomo and Charmaine Cousins, Judge Michael Andrews, Sixth Judicial Circuit Court, Gwendolyn Reese and St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway.