By Alaina Bookman
Members of the A.H. Parker High School Creative Minds Club agree that being a high schooler is harder than ever.
The Creative Minds club was founded in 2021 by Parker students Makayla Green, Jeremiah Barrow and Jordan Belser, to provide a creative outlet for all the high school’s students amid a rise in teen homicides and racial tension. In Birmingham, there have been 103 murder investigations so far in 2023, according to police – including investigations into the deaths of some of their classmates.
“As a teen, you would think that we would focus on high school, trying to make a good career path, but it gets tough,” said Kamarion Morris, a junior. “Certain situations cause us to act in violent ways. We as teens could work to stop it. Our government could help to stop it.”
As police work to solve crime and the school district works to address its aftermath, students say writing, art and self-expression help them sort through their feelings.
The students meet in the library where a lively roundtable discussion takes place. Posters in Parker purple line the walls and bookshelves. The students take turns listening attentively as jokes and future aspirations are shared along with stories of grief and loss.
The group is tight-knit. A recent tragedy, the death of Yasmine Wright, has impacted several of them.
Club co-founder Barrow, a senior, is from Birmingham’s West End. His brother’s girlfriend, Yasmine Wright, was shot and killed Jan. 8, 2022, while she was on her way home from work. She was a junior at Wenonah High School.
“A bullet has no name on it. You never know when your time is up. That’s what motivates me to move out of the hood. It’s not a safe place,” Barrow said. “Since it’s normal to carry a gun, the first thing you’d think to do is not talk it out, but shoot it out. We don’t have the words to talk about it. Now, boom, it’s a shoot out everywhere you go.”
Barrow wants to join the military to help pay for college. He is considering becoming a Marine.
Club members smiled and agreed when Barrow said, “I know that I’m going to be something great in life.”
Jamaree Collins, founder and executive director of I Am Greatness Youth Mentoring Program and a Birmingham Common Ground Program Coach, helped create the Creative Minds club. He graduated from Parker in 2007 and said he wanted to create a way for students to “be the change they wanted to see in the world.”
The co-founder of his mentoring program, Wilbur Reynolds, also has a connection to Wright’s death – his mother was in the car with Wright.
Collins said Reynolds has struggled with the thought of almost losing his mother that day.
“There’s no manual for how to address that. How do I make somebody overcome grief? I can’t hug him and just tell him everything is going to be okay. I don’t know how he feels,” Collins said.
He said adults must do a better job of reaching out to the children in their lives.
“You hear so many stories that if you don’t ask, you wouldn’t even know,” he said. “We’re going inside these schools into these communities to create these programs to stop the violence, but how many of us are actually sitting down and listening to these kids?”
Parker junior, Sharaia Canady, is a member of Parker’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. She wants to earn her doctorate of psychology and enter the Army Reserve.
She said she wants younger students to know that gun violence is not normal, even though it has become a part of many students’ everyday lives.
De’Undray Nakil Haggard, 18, was a senior at Parker High School. He was shot and killed Jan. 12, 2022. His death came just days after Wright’s.
Loved ones say Haggard wanted to go to college and someday own a business.
Jaylen Clark, 17, was also a Parker senior when he was shot and killed Jan. 29, 2023. An 18-year-old was arrested in connection with the shooting.
Clark was in the high school choir and was planning to attend Jacksonville State University after graduation on scholarship through the Birmingham Promise.
“With all the homicides, it definitely influences you as a high schooler. We lost a student last year. It makes me consider leaving Birmingham and that’s sad because Birmingham is a very good place. It can live up to its namesake of the Magic City. We just need to invest more into preventing gun violence,” Shiloh Britt said.
Britt is the vice president of the school’s chef’s club. As a junior, he has received five offers to undergraduate culinary programs. He plans to be a chef.
The students have ideas for solutions that would give young adults in the city more options, professionally and personally. Britt wants certified therapists on campus as an outlet for students.
Morris wants to see more internship opportunities available for high school freshmen and sophomores to introduce new avenues for success.
Morris said he makes excellent grades and plans to go to medical school and one day become a cardiothoracic surgeon. He also aspires to go into politics.
Club co-founder Green wants more Birmingham schools to implement after school programs that keep students off the streets and away from violence.
Green is president and lead attorney on the school’s law club. She wants to become a corporate lawyer. She has received a scholarship from Alabama State University.
“We are teenagers, but we’re going through so much. We need new solutions,” Green said.
The Creative Minds club members have created two anthology books about mental health and social justice with artwork, poems and short excerpts discussing their experiences with anxiety, depression, bullying, and self doubt as well as how they are affected by racism and prejudice.
In “Welcome to the Land of the Free,” an anthology discussing social justice, some of the students wrote about police brutality within the Black community and gun violence. The book now lives in the school library.
“Our overall goal is to bring awareness to mental health situations that we all experience. Our goal is also to reach our younger generation who may feel like they don’t have a voice to speak for themselves. The saying ‘stay in a child’s place,’ is always pointed at us. We want to let the younger generation know that they have a voice, not just adults,” Morris said.