Superintendent Luvenia Jackson kicks off Clayton County Public Schools’ ‘Clayton Proud’ campaign during the district’s call to action event Monday. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)
JONESBORO — Organizers estimate more than 500 people turned out for the anti-violence awareness event Monday.
Described as “a rally call for action and solidarity,” the event marked an official kick-off to Clayton County Public Schools’ “Clayton Proud” campaign.
Spokeswoman Vicki Gavalas said the campaign is geared toward bolstering community involvement and improving the community’s self-image.
Gavalas said recent incidents in which students were caught fighting or in possession of drugs and weapons at school spurred officials to act.
The campaign is designed to garner parental support and pro-active commitments from Clayton County law enforcement, judiciary, state legislature, municipalities, faith-based organizations and business. Each sector was represented at Monday’s program and pledged commitments to the campaign.
Superintendent Luvenia Jackson — flanked by well-dressed school board members and administrative office personnel — gave the event’s welcome.
“We must demonstrate a respect for one another,” said Jackson, emphatically.
Dr. Leon Beeler of Forest Park Ministers Association gave the opening invocation.
Commission Chair Jeff Turner followed up as a representative of county government. He spoke to the gathering crowd about commitment and community engagement.
“It has to be a collaborative effort,” said Turner. “It starts with community. Our actions must show that we are proud of Clayton County.”
Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steve Teske spoke while surrounded by members of the judiciary. District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson and Solicitor General Tasha Mosley stood by his side.
Teske noted the successes of collaborations among his office, the school district and law enforcement agencies.
“We have reduced detention rates by 70 percent,” said Teske. “Juvenile complaints have declined 63 percent. Even though our detention rates have fallen by 70 percent, there is still that 30 percent. We need to reduce that 30 percent.”
He challenged parents to play an active role also.
“Get in the business of your kids,” he said. “If you love them, get in their business.”
Rev. James Harris of Dixon Grove Baptist Church in Jonesboro represented the Association of Christian Ministers of Clayton County as he spoke about “home training” and child rearing.
“If a child cannot spell his name at home,” he said, “he probably can’t do more than make a mockery of his name anywhere else.”
Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day, vice chairwoman for the Clayton County Municipal Association, and State Sen. Gail Davenport (District 44) of Clayton County’s legislative delegation, committed to the campaign on behalf of their respective public sectors.
Yulanda Darden Beauford, president of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, promised continued support from the business community to improve the county’s quality of life through its schools.
“It takes unfortunate things sometimes for communities to make things happen,” said Beauford about the recent incidents of violence, guns and drugs in schools.
Schools police Chief Clarence Cox spoke to those unfortunate events he said resulted from the actions of a minority in the district’s student population.
“We don’t issue guns at Clayton County School System,” said Cox, pointing to the instances in which students brought guns to school.
He vowed to address the issues.
“This is going to be the safest school district in the country,” said Cox. “It starts at home. We’re going to get it together today. Your charge is simply this: ‘If you see something, say something.’”
Rev. Fred Shillow of Fellowship of Black Ministers of Clayton County gave the closing benediction, and the Fine Arts Magnet High choir at Mount Zion High sang as the crowd dispersed.
Forest Park Middle Assistant Principal Scharbrenia Lockhart made her way through the crowd glad with the experience.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Lockhart. “I love that there’s an opportunity for the schools and the community to come together. I’m grateful for this, and I’m Clayton Proud.”