Some of the most valuable insights I receive happen when I get out of my office and meet people face-to-face. That’s how I can learn about citizens’ daily lives and challenges.
Some of the most honest conversations I’ve had about realities facing our youth have been with a group of promising young men at Lee High School.
They call themselves the EVAC Movement – which is “cave” spelled backward – a reference to Plato’s allegory about breaking free from the confines and darkness of one’s circumstances, and embracing the knowledge and freedom of the light.
Each of these young men has experienced significant hardships in their lives – including violence, loss of loved ones, and incarcerated parents – but they set goals, hold each other accountable, and work to overcome their challenges. Now they venture back to the cave to lead others to the light, even speaking at a recent TEDxJacksonville conference.
I’ve had the pleasure of engaging with this group many times to listen to their stories and discuss how Jacksonville can have a more positive impact on the lives of youth. They are the reason why I no longer refer to children as “at-risk.” Young people in Jacksonville want to succeed; they just need to know that their city is behind them. They are “at-hope.”
During one of those conversations, the discussion turned to football and I promised them tickets to a Jaguars game. This Halloween, I followed through on my promise, but also gave them another assignment.
When board members for the Kids Hope Alliance I created this year are selected, I will task them with meeting with subject matter experts to learn how best to serve youth in Jacksonville. As part of that effort, they will be required to meet with the EVAC students.
These promising teens walk the walk and are achieving great success, with little resources. I advised the young men to be real, to share their stories, and to provide genuine feedback about what youth in our city face. Through the Kids Hope Alliance, we can take their fresh ideas and best practices and implement positive change for youth throughout Jacksonville.