By Johnny Jackson
The Unity Step Team of Jonesboro High School hosted its "Sing to Live High School Tour: Bringing Unity to the Community" Concert Saturday in the Jonesboro High School gymnasium.
The school's assistant principal Patricia Hill accepted a plaque on behalf of the city of Jonesboro. The plaque was given in memory of children who passed away in Clayton County last year.
"I was really concerned about the crime and vandalism and how it reflected on our youth," said Kim Mitchell, step team coach and principle coordinator of the event. She said there needed to be more attention paid to the youth.
"We've brought in guys who they said would never finish high school; they're getting A's and B's now. And every girl on this team has overcome something. Krystal is one of many," she said, referring to Krystal Williams, a teenage girl who died last spring as a result of violence among youth in Clayton County.
Mitchell directed to Vernan Tinsley, who helped produce the event. He runs Tinsley Arts and Entertainment, a multimedia production company, with his wife Teresa Tinsley.
"We're trying to target youth that are troubled with things happening now," he said. He proposed bringing the community together with local entertainers and teen idols who were there for the concert.
Shakera Duffy and Symone Sullivan said as much. They are members of the Unity Step Team. The 16- and 15-year-old, respectively, joined the team last year as first-time steppers.
"I wanted to be involved in something," said Sullivan, a sophomore at Jonesboro High School.
"For me, it was step team or nothing; I'm not athletic at all," Duffy said. She is a Junior at Jonesboro High School this year.
Both are involved with academic clubs and plan to go to college when they graduate high school. Currently, Sullivan wants to major in communications and minor dance. Duffy has not decided yet what she will major in or where she will attend college. She suspects she will do something related to math, though.
The two are glad to practice and bond after school every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 3:45 until 6 p.m.
"They work very hard," Hill said, affirming that the step team is an official team sport at the school. "I think it's been very encouraging. I think this is something our kids need - to get our students involved in other activities," she said.
"This is a community event-one of the first that we've had here to try to promote good will in the community."
Sullivan and Duffy share a concern about the community; they say they worry sometimes about their safety.
"Everything's so dangerous," Sullivan said.
"It affects us, because, where can you go? Kids should be able to live, you know." Duffy said, adding-"we don't have a lot of respect from our peers."
The step team, she said, isn't considered an official school club or team by some at the school and in the community. Thus, they said the concert serves many purposes, legitimately memorializing death while celebrating life.
"This is something the youth can enjoy," Sullivan said. "It's to show the community and school we want their respect. When we started the step team, we weren't organized. And (Mitchell) said, 'you know what, it's not going to happen like that.'"
A while ago, then, Mitchell attended a step team rehearsal in support of her daughter Ebony Grayson, a 17-year-old senior member of the step team. Duffy said Mitchell got to know the 16-member team and quickly earned their respect.
Saturday, business members and organizations in the community joined Mitchell and her step team in an effort to fight against risky behavior by uplifting constructive involvement.
One of the organizations includes the newly formed Krystal Williams Foundation. Patricia and Howard Holden attended the concert representing the new foundation. They are grandparents to the deceased teen, who are working on a foundation to raise money to one day open a youth center in Clayton County.
"We decided to create a foundation to get enough money together to open up a youth center," said Patricia Holden. "I hope we keep having activities for the youth to give them an outlet. This is very nice; they need more events like this. And we're coming out pretty well."
Howard Holden said his family got together after his granddaughter's passing to make a difference in the community.
"It can make a difference for our youth who don't have anything to do positive," he said.
According to Mitchell, the National Association of Investors and Mortgage Consultants made a difference by helping create scholarships for students and co-sponsoring the "Sing to Live" concert.
"The purpose is to present kids with better options and help make our community a better place," Mitchell said. "It's a celebration of life."