JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Even though Levi Inniss and Ronald Coleman grew up in different parts of Jacksonville, their experiences are strikingly similar.
Coleman said he was surrounded by crime and death while growing up on the Eastside. Inniss grew up on the Westside, where he said the sound of gunshots was a normal occurrence and he was a witness to racism and police brutality.
Despite growing up in those difficult environments, the 17-year-old Robert E. Lee students have been able to stay focused on their goals and now they are working to bring change to their city and beyond.
“I knew when I got older, I wanted to be a part of a change, especially in Jacksonville, Florida,” Inniss said.
Board members will provide feedback on Harvard’s Making Caring Common project and share their perspectives on current events and issues in the media. The board will also implement yearlong projects to develop their leadership skills and cultivate a culture of kindness in their schools and communities, according to the school.
As Black students, the goal for the Jacksonville teens is to set a positive example for others their age and break negative stereotypes.
“I just want to build my name and just help out the people around me and show them that a young African American just like me with golds in his mouth, long hair, dreadlocks, he’s not a drug dealer or a gang member, or a killer, he’s actually a Harvard youth advisor and has a lot going on,” Inniss said.
Coleman said he also knows what it’s like to be racially profiled.
“People might not know, that appearance came from the environment that you grew up in and they judge you based off that appearance,” Coleman said. “I don’t feel like that’s fair.”
They want to make it clear that people who look like them and come from where they come from can also become Harvard students. And as members of the Harvard board, the teens are taking the lead on issues like racism and equity.
“We’re just looking for better ways to make society like school, stuff like that, better places and making it fair for African American kids,” said Coleman who wants to become a lawyer.
Inniss said soon he will be working to become an engineer while continuing to work to improve his community.
“I just want to motivate the people around me and show them that people just like me, can go and do the same thing everybody else can if you put your mind to it and actually give it the time,” Inniss said.