Obstacles facing Tarrant County youth was highlighted at a panel Thursday which included business, community, and school district leaders.
The panel was hosted by the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Tarrant County. Panelists included Arlington ISD Superintendent Dr. Marcelo Cavazos, Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Dr. Kent Scribner, CEO & President of the local Boys and Girls Club Daphne Barlow Stigliano, and club alumni Lucille O’Neal – the mother of NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.
In Tarrant County, one of the alarming trends discussed was the spike in suicide rates among the ages of people 22 and younger. Between 2009 and 2019, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Tarrant County reports the rate climbed by more than double.
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In Fort Worth specifically, Dr. Scribner said an issue that many of the 80,000-plus students his district represents is poverty.
“Over 80 percent of the students in Fort Worth which is very similar to other large cities live in poverty. That’s a family of four living on $30,000 or less but that’s not an excuse. We have to really invest in our students as the assets that they are and provide them with the necessary support,” Scribner told NBC 5. “If we have random acts of improvement, we are not going to get anywhere. We have to coordinate our efforts. We have to align our resources and have a clear focus on what we are trying to accomplish, which is to prepare our students for success beyond high school and career and in college and beyond.”
That won’t happen without collaboration, Scribner said. Partnerships with non-profits and organizations empowering the youth is crucial, he told NBC 5.
O’Neal, who flew in from Florida to speak on the panel Thursday, said the Boys & Girls Club organization helped her realize her potential as a young girl.
“I was not in a good place but the staff made me feel comfortable and I remember just a few words that one of the staff members said to me...she said you’re going to be special one day. I never forgot that over the years and I had to give that same message to my oldest son and my oldest daughter and my two younger children as well,” she recalled.
This is a message O’Neal hopes current members will take with them as they graduate from the organization.
Torion Lewis, a high school senior, has been with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Tarrant County since she was six-years-old. Her parents’ divorce in the third grade brought a period of self-doubt, she said.
“I feel like my presence wasn’t meaningful,” she told NBC 5. “I felt like I was very silent at the time and I kept all my emotions in, because I do have two older brothers and I had a mom. I knew they were struggling through the same thing I was going through. Me putting that out – I really didn’t want to. I was basically enclosed in myself.”
However, being able to connect with peers who understood her hardship was a big step in getting through the tough times.
“Being surrounded by other girls that related to the same thing I was going through stayed with me and impacted me,” she said.