Alachua County’s 23rd annual Stop the Violence Back to School Rally aims to combat rising tension amid an influx of mass shootings under this year’s theme: “Getting to the Root of the Matter — Youth Violence.”
The rally will present parents and students with backpacks, school supplies and safety lessons in the Santa Fe College gymnasium Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. People Against Violence Enterprises and Alachua County Public Schools will review free meal programs, vaccination expectations and supply needs tangentially with violence prevention.
Reoccurring mass shootings across Florida and consistent bomb threats in Alachua County high schools seem to have no concrete solution, Jordan Marlowe, an English and history teacher at Newberry High School, said. The idea of enforcing clear backpacks was proposed and swiftly dismissed, but safety measures must be determined and implemented to see safer conditions, he said.
“I think anything that we can do to raise awareness of the issue is helpful, but if all we do are public events and there is no follow up on real policy change, then it won’t be,” he said.
Reinforcing non-violent ideologies in elementary schools is paramount, he said.
While the main goal of this event is combating violence, founder and president of People Against Violence Enterprises Karl Anderson said it will also bring the students and parents together before the beginning of a new school year.
“It’ll serve as a reminder when the kids see everybody come together, shoulder to shoulder and side by side with one voice,” he said. “The rallying cry will really get their attention and cause them to think about the next time they find a gun and what to do with it.”
If the county can find the origin of violence, it can begin to make change and redirect the trajectory of our problems, Anderson said.
The current system awards positive behavior, Marlowe said, but sometimes that only increases bullying toward students who report alarming behavior.
A lack of trust and connection between teachers and students, he said, could also increase instances of violence within school.
“There’s just no way that a teacher who has to watch 40 kids at once is going to be able to catch everything,” he said.
Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, a long-standing event sponsor, will provide free backpacks filled with school supplies and resources for reporting violence or threats of violence. The organization was able to offer only 100 backpacks 23 years ago, Richard Anderson, Chief Clinical Officer for Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, said; this year the first 5,000 students to arrive will receive one.
Thi’sl, a person who transformed himself from a criminal into a Grammy Award winning musician, will be a guest speaker. There will also be a Q&A session to understand the mindset of not only the parents, but also the children, Karl Anderson said.
“We’ll just have a community talk with some music, some dancing and a plethora of prizes,” he said.
The rally also provides vital information for parents and students regarding back-to-school necessities, Alachua County Public School Spokesperson Jackie Johnson said.
ACPS will provide information on its free meals program, school calendars and other resources that will help families have a smooth start to the school year, she said. ACPS will also coordinate transportation for the rally, Johnson said.
“We participate in a number of ways, and we do that because we feel that the message of nonviolence is absolutely critical for students and families both in and out of school,” she said.
Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp is a first-year Journalism major and a Metro News Assistant for The Alligator. You'll usually find her reading, watching movies and searching for creative ways to be more environmentally friendly. She loves going on spontaneous adventures and grabbing boba/coffee with friends.