EVAC youth ‘changing the game’

EVAC youth ‘changing the game’
Vincente Waugh, Kemon Vonta, Bernard Thomas III, Alan McCullough at Harvard for the third presentation of the year.

Lee students to present in Brazil

When 20 male freshmen began a leadership class at Robert E. Lee High School in 2015, one of Amy Donofrio’s first lessons to the class was on Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” The class embraced the lesson and thus began EVAC, which is “cave” spelled backwards, to signify their desire to evacuate other youth from the cave of hopelessness and system leaders from the cave of ignorance of the community’s realities.

            In 2018, 12 members of the core members graduated from high school and this year two more proudly wore the blue robes and caps of the Lee Generals after an eventful past year.

Tony Robinson at his Robert E. Lee High School graduation.
Tony Robinson at his Robert E. Lee High School graduation.

            EVAC’s final semester had members making their third presentation in the past year at Harvard, were the cover story for a GMA (Good Morning America) segment on that same trip and made the New York Times.

            In early May four members spoke as keynote presenters at Harvard’s Superintendent Conference in Washington, D.C., where they also received invitations to speak in Ferguson, Missouri; San Diego, and New York City.

            Then, the Harvard Educational Review asked Donofrio, teacher at Lee High School and founder of the EVAC Movement, to submit the story of EVAC for consideration in a special issue on youth voices. The editor, Tatiana Geron, said the goal of the issue was to “elevate the voices of young people as key contributors to academic conversations that aim to improve the schools, communities, and complex social contexts in which they live.”

            On May 31, members of EVAC walked across the stage to receive their high school diplomas. Donofrio was emotional as she watched the young men she has mentored and fought for over the past four years.

            “Everybody talks about the negative, but most of our kids are actually quiet heroes, out here making moves. Tony [Robinson] grew up in Eureka. His first time leaving Jax was in 10th grade…to present at the White House,” she posted on Facebook in early June. “Last week at 17, he became the first in his family to graduate. Today, he got a job, a bank account and a passport. In July, he presents in Brazil on ending youth violence. This fall, he’s off to Iowa Central on a rugby scholarship. He’s changing the whole game and I don’t think he even knows it.”

Amy Donofrio with Alan McCullough, showing off his new passport for a trip to Brazil for a speaking engagement.
Amy Donofrio with Alan McCullough, showing off his new passport for a trip to Brazil for a speaking engagement.

            Yes, Brazil. On June 3, Donofrio received a letter from Samira Bueno, executive director of the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, with an invitation to attend the 13th annual meeting of the organization, July 31-Aug. 2, in João Pessoa, capital of Paraíba, Brazil. EVAC was invited to make a one-hour presentation on Aug. 2 on how to improve the relationship between youth and police. The nonprofit will cover accommodation and meals, as well as an interpreter for the presentation, but it was up to Donofrio and EVAC members to find funds for airfare and passports.

            Everything that Donofrio and the EVAC members do is funded through grassroots community support. There is no budget through Duval County Public School, so all trips to present their story are paid for by generous donors or come from Donofrio’s and the students’ own pockets.

            Donofrio, 32, passionately promotes EVAC, celebrates the successes of its members, and decries the injustices committed on the basis of skin color.

            In January, Donofrio and one EVAC member were chosen to join a City Council task force on violent crime.

            In March, she posted a story about a battle to get one of the original EVAC members, a juvenile, out of adult prison where he was sentenced in 2016 for 10 years with an adult felony record. “Unknown to the boys, everyone I asked told me it was a lost cause, that it was simply too late. But here’s the thing: NOTHING is too lost or late for God. One year later, the State Attorney met to tell us the news in person: she was returning him to juvenile. To a two-year youth program…NO adult record.” He was finally released in March 2019.

            In April, Donofrio was quoted in a Newsweek story about the Florida Senate’s vote on a bill to allow teachers to carry guns in schools. Newsweek said, “Amy Donofrio of the EVAC Movement bemoaned the impact the Senate’s vote might have on students of color. ‘Today Florida didn’t just pass a bill to arm teachers, we signed death certificates for kids of color. We looked at factual racial bias in teacher expectations, referrals & discipline…and signed a permit to extend the pipeline to the cemetery.’”

            Now she’s helping the young men get passports, vaccines and funds to take the trip of a lifetime out of the United States. To help fund the trip, go gofundme.com and search for Support EVAC Movement Needs.

By Kate A. Hallock

Resident Community News

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