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Longview students dispel labels, attitudes in seminar against violence

By Jimmy Isaac
April 8, 2016 at 11:20 p.m.

Patrick Johnson with J-STAR Ministries talks Thursday to a group of Pine Tree PACE and EXCEL program students participating in National Youth Violence Prevention Day.

As part of a demonstration, Pine Tree EXCEL student Semajae Stark was asked to hold a sign with the word "thug" across it.

"I ain't no thug, though," Semajae said as he took hold of the sign, stirring laughter among the classroom.

"That's all right," said guest speaker Patrick Johnson with J-STAR Ministries. "I want that response."

Bucking labels, redirecting attitudes and finding self-value were among topics this week at a national Youth Violence Prevention Week seminar at Pine Tree ISD's PACE and EXCEL campuses.

PACE Principal Shalonda Adams said the 90-minute seminar was part of national Students Against Violence Everywhere events. It also was under the umbrella of Longview's six-month-old Hope for Youth Movement, an effort to curb violence and gang activity among area young people.

"It's going to be a hard, fast ride," Adams said in opening the seminar, "but it will be well worth the trip."

Students from elementary school age to high school seniors were treated to poems from spoken word artist Bernard Boulden Jr., hard-knock inspiration from Johnson and lessons in law enforcement interaction from Longview police spokeswoman Kristie Brian.

During Johnson's demonstration, when Stark and other students flipped their signs, negative labels such as "thug" and "loser" switched to positive labels such as "successful."

"You haven't lost your value. You're valuable," Johnson told the classroom of about 30 young people. "I don't let anybody define me by who I used to be. … If you don't change, you will simply become an older version of you."

"I liked when he did the cards with the labels," 16-year-old PACE student Keenan Liston said, adding that hearing inspiring speeches and poems can "keep us alive and out of jail. Stuff like that really kind of makes people think about what you're doing."

Ashlyn Ellis, a 16-year-old EXCEL student, said Brian's talk hit close to home. The police spokeswoman shared with students how showing respect to police during traffic stops or other interactions can result in a positive experience with law enforcement.

"No one likes to be disrespected," Brian said. "Attitude is everything. You can talk yourself into a ticket, just like you can talk yourself into not getting a ticket."

Ashlyn said she's seen that lesson firsthand while being in a car with her mother.

"You've just always got to be respectful to everybody, even if they're not being respectful to you," Ashlyn said. "I think it makes you feel better about yourself, and it changes the other person's attitude and makes them feel happier."

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