Jesse R. Beard, the youngest member of the famed Jena Six, has a golden opportunity to change his life into something other than what has made him famous.
Jesse is out of Jena, La., with a golden nugget given to him by people who don’t look like him or think like him. Let’s pray that Beard and his family move beyond the Jena Six saga. Read the story below
By Eileen FitzGerald
NEW MILFORD — A lot of elements affect the success of a high-profile student. They can range from the reason for the acclaim and the student’s attitude about it, to the support the student has from family and the school.
These are some of the issues that will come into play for Jesse Ray Beard, who begins classes at Canterbury School in New Milford next month. Beard is one of six black students still awaiting trial after being arrested for a fight at Jena High School in central Louisiana, where a white student suffered a concussion and multiple bruises. Five of the defendants who await trial found success when they left Jena High for other schools, said Beard’s lead counsel, David Utter.
“All of the young men were able to get out of Jena High and go to other schools and they have succeeded,” said Utter, who is associated with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The main thing these children needed to make the transition from high school to adulthood was a supporting environment. (Canterbury) is an incredible opportunity and Jesse Ray knows it.” Canterbury wants this to be successful for Beard, he said. “We have great confidence that it’s going to work out.”
Seventeen-year-old Beard was released from house arrest in the spring for previous juvenile charges and alleged probation violation and spent the summer in New York with an attorney, taking an English course and working at a law firm. His probation was terminated so he could attend Canterbury. What will be crucial to the outcome will be how much support he has from the school, his family and other students, Manos said.
“That will determine to a large extent how a person comes out of a high-profile situation,” said psychologist Charles Manos, coordinator of pupil services for the 10,000-student Danbury school district. “On some level, kids are more accepting and understanding, and they wanted to weigh all the issues, while many adults come to quick conclusions.” Manos said it’s an interesting time in society when the context of an event plays a role in the response to it.
“We look at all the factors, not just the legal result, because society has a certain belief system and values.” For instance, a 16-year-old boy arrested for having sex with a 14-year-old girl would be viewed differently than if the girl was 6 years old, Manos said.
And the repercussions for the children of a parent on the front page of a local paper for embezzling would be different than if the parent was arrested for Internet sex activity, Manos said. Another example he gave was the reaction to the drunk driving arrest of Olympic gold medalist Mike Phelps, who would receive more sympathy than the same charge for Paris Hilton.
“The six (Jena) students who became enraged (about the nooses) and beat up someone has great historical meaning compared to someone who beats up someone else for some drugs,” Manos said. “How people handle race and their deep ingrained beliefs will play a factor in how they respond to this situation. To some extent it’s about violence, but it’s still about race and how we’re a divided society.”
The noose serves as a threat of domination and power, and even though that meaning might not have been fully understood by the boys who hung the nooses, Manos said the response shows when people feel threatened, they sometimes use power to retaliate.
“I will never condone violence on any level, but you can understand how something like this could happen when this symbol was used to frighten,” Manos said. “Just because we don’t condone it (violence), doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help people understand it. If you use the ‘n’ word or a noose, it’s a powerful provocative act.”
Conversations allow healing to take place, he said. In a high-profile case, you have to help kids deal with the resulting attention.
“There will be implications,” Manos said, because the person walking down the hall is carrying around all these issues inside. “How the school responds, how it deals both overtly and subtly, and the message sent about this behavior may help the student heal or become more angry or bitter.” Schools have a primary obligation, he said. “You have to protect the privacy of the children.”