Richmond School Board Chair: 'We just don't have enough to serve students'

Shawn Jackson
Posted at 8:02 PM, Jun 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-07 20:17:26-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Latisha Carson was at the Altria Theater Tuesday afternoon supporting her nieces during their Huguenot High School commencement ceremony.

“It was an amazing graduation. It was beautiful actually," Carson said.

She said her family and others were outside taking pictures when the celebrations turned deadly.

_Shawn Jackson and Renzo Smith 02.png
Shawn Jackson and Renzo Smith

Police said 19-year-old Amari Pollard shot and killed 18-year-old Shawn Jackson, a graduating senior at Huguenot High School, right after the ceremony. Jackson's stepfather 36-year-old Renzo Smith was also shot and killed. Five others were shot and injured.

“I felt safe until I realized that," Carson said before closing her eyes and taking a pause. "It was people on the ground. It was seniors on the ground injured. It was something in a movie scene to see people falling and getting up running for their lives."

Carson recorded and documented the chaotic moments live on Facebook. People were seen running, crying, and hugging loved ones.

Poster image - 2023-06-07T193059.395.jpg

Emergency crews were giving CPR to people on the ground. Police officers were sprinting and setting up crime scene tape.

“I was frustrated. I was angry. I was upset," Carson said. "Can you imagine for the rest of their lives, they're going to think their classmate was gunned down at their graduation. That's heartbreaking."

Now Carson wants to turn her anger in action. She runs a non-profit called Exquisite Community Solutions aimed at preventing gun violence.

Latisha Carson and School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi
Latisha Carson and School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi

Outside of Huguenot Wednesday, Carson caught up with School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi to pitch her ideas.

“I think we have to listen to the community," Rizzi said in an interview with CBS 6 Wednesday. "They have to guide us and tell us what they need and how they need us to respond."

Rizzi said many RPS communities are facing immense, unique struggles that make them more susceptible to violence including housing insecurity, food insecurity, and social and emotional challenges.

“We need to be able to intervene with our young people at an earlier stage so that they don't go from bright, bubbly, beautiful young people into being influenced into handling guns and using guns to resolve conflict," Rizzi said.

She said she's pushing for more human services and wraparound support in schools to address significant needs.

“Do you feel that up to this point, the school board has made enough investment in those areas?” reporter Tyler Layne asked.

“We have definitely been trying. We have been making that argument that we need more," Rizzi said. "We have a lack of resources. We don't have an unlimited budget. We're also dealing with a shortage of mental health professionals and counselors. We just don't have enough at this point to serve students in the way that we want to serve them."

Richmond City Councilmember Stephanie Lynch
Richmond City Councilmember Stephanie Lynch

Richmond City Councilmember Stephanie Lynch (5th District) said city leaders and school leaders must strengthen their partnership to effectively serve youth as well as inviting in more community partner programming.

“If we were to grade ourselves on the collaboration and the connection between our public school systems and our human service systems, I think we get a C minus," Lynch said. “How do you break down silos across our own systems? It takes leadership to look at the ugly baby. Like, let's look at our booboos.”

Lynch said this is one of the reasons why she's been pushing a children's budget which she described as an inventory of human services, non-profit services, and RPS services that impact families and children.

"We really need to take a serious look at what the left and the right hand is doing," Lynch said. "It is incumbent upon us to do what we can within our control and within our power."

Some of the variables that Lynch said the city as a locality cannot control include social media threats and access to guns, to which she implored state and federal help.

FULL NEWS CONFERENCE: Richmond mayor, police chief give update after deadly graduation day shooting

During a Wednesday press conference, Acting Police Chief Rick Edwards said Jackson and Pollard had a year-long dispute between each other leading up to the shooting. He also said there were "blinking red lights" on social media and encouraged parents to keep tabs on their kids' online posts.

“You can almost see a blinking red light of an incident like this occurring because the disputes start on social media, and they’re magnified," Edwards said.

Rizzi said RPS teachers often help alert leadership of potential social media disputes between students. She added the board could consider looking into additional programs and monitoring systems to track troubling social media posts.

Huguenot High School
Huguenot High School

Leaders assured that they're doing the best they can to prevent future tragedies but said the work is difficult and they're also processing along with the public they serve.

“I constantly live on the precipice of, am I failing? Am I doing enough?” Lynch said.

“We are just as devastated as this community is right now," Rizzi said.

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