JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A group of high school students in Jacksonville is determined to continue its mission of bridging the gap between police and youth.
The Robert E. Lee High School students are part of a movement to change Jacksonville as well as the lives of fellow teenagers. The movement is call EVAC, which is the word cave spelled backwards. The students chose that name for young people trying to find their way out of the cave of hopelessness and ignorance.
"They just have a good mission toward the community and want better for youth our age and younger," explained 11th-grader Christopher Burgess, who's been a member of EVAC for one year.
News4Jax first met members of the EVAC movement in June, when they invited local community leaders into their leadership class to discuss the change they want to see in the world. They also spoke with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office about how to more compassionate when speaking with families of homicide victims.
The EVAC movement traveled to Washington, D.C., in August to participate in a U.S. Department of Justice roundtable discussion about juveniles and the justice system. They then got to meet former President Barack Obama in August when visited the University of North Florida to campaign for Hillary Clinton.
"We actually flew to D.C., which was crazy, as a class. We met President Obama and it was a dream come true. And just trying to make a change in the community it really means a lot to me," said 11th-grader Billy Luper, a first year EVAC member.
Now, after seeing recent tensions between young people and police, they invited another prominent member of law enforcement into their classroom Tuesday night.
They met with a former FBI agent to brainstorm ways they can help bridge the divide between youth and law enforcement officers.
"Are they seeing us as teens and children? Or are they seeing us as a straight up adults? So we were figuring if we can get them to see that we're going through (are) the things that they, at one point, went through when they were growing up and we can connect to them," said 11th-grader Tyree King.
King, who's been a member of EVAC for two years, said better guidance is vital to keep young men alive. He said he knew 16-year-old Khamoi Peterson, who was recently shot and killed at the Landing. The students feel that his death could have been prevented if he had resources like EVAC.
"We feel like more security in the area and more guidance in the community (is need)," Burgess said.
EVAC actually worked the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and went to the Landing after. King said he was there just minutes before Peterson was gunned down, so the young men are speaking from experience when they talk with city officials.
These young men are very determined -- many of them want to be lawyers, engineers and doctors. They said they know there is a lot to be done, and they want the public to know they except the responsibility to changing the relationship between youth and law enforcement officers.
Currently, he EVAC movement is only at Lee High School. But the students hope that one day soon it will become a national organization to help young men everywhere.