IN SUMMARY: we are a movement, we are a brotherhood of hope.
Tired of being classified as "at-risk," we founded The EVAC. More of a movement rather than organization or program, we are simply a teacher and group of 15 “at-hope” African-American young men from Jacksonville, Florida, dedicated to channelling our painful personal tragedies into positive change and needed hope for our classmates, community, and world.
We focus our efforts particularly in the area of juvenile justice/crime. Meeting regularly with officials, we present youth concerns and solutions based on the unique blend of our personal stories, hard data and knowledge from direct partnerships with local/national juvenile justice leaders.
EVAC = “CAVE” backwards.* Since 2013, the first lesson Ms. Donofrio taught ALL her classes was “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave,” a philosophy piece written almost 2,500 yrs ago. It’s a story of prisoners who’ve been chained in a cave since birth; they are of course not aware of their chains and even that they are in a cave...it’s all they have ever known. That is, until one day when a liberator descends the cave steps, unbinds their chains and leads them outside to the light. From then on, it is the liberated prisoners' responsibility to make pilgrimages to the cave to liberate others.
After reading “Plato's Cave,” each student privately analyzes their story (difficult experiences that have shaped their views) and what “cave” beliefs they’ve developed and "cave" choices they’ve made as a result of their struggles. Every year, Ms. Donofrio's challenge to each of her 200 students is to consider SHARING their stories. In 2014-15, she taught six co-ed, 35-student 9th grade Leadership courses. Many of the current EVAC boys were among those students. As these young men shared their stories with their respective classes, Ms. Donofrio and mentor Jay Harris observed in awe as these young men loosened their "cave" chains--and grew.
The following fall, Ms. Donofrio was asked to select students she would teach in a new, special leadership class--one that would be all African-American and male. The hope was for the class to help counter the racial disparity seen across the board in youth success outcomes. These young men exhibited striking, yet "diamond-in-the-rough" leadership potential as ninth graders in her class.
Our journey as a class started anything but smoothly. At best, most students in the class did not really know each other. At worst, many actively disliked each other. The first few months were rough. Classmates fought. Ms. Donofrio cried. Lessons fell flat. It was, quite simply, a disaster.
In late October 2015, after much conflict, prayer and in desperation, the class went back to the one thing they had found success with as ninth graders. The one thing they had learned changed everything: their stories.
Sharing Your Story
In Ms. Donofrio's ninth grade leadership class, students watched The Lion King and followed Simba's story--witnessing the death of his father, initially running away but ultimately facing his grief in order to reclaim his destiny as king. They used this journey as a model for tracing their own stories. They were then encouraged to follow the "Sharing Your Story" model with the class at some point during the year. As a last-ditch attempt to salvage the class, Ms. Donofrio decided to once again have the students watch The Lion King...and re-face their stories.
Once again, this soon proved to change everything.
Though sharing our stories was powerful in healing us as individuals and bonded us as a group, we soon began to hunger for more. As one student stated, "Sharing our stories has been amazing, but I'm tired of living in the past--when are we going to DO something about all of this?" Thus began our journey as advocates.
* In February 2016, we decided we wanted to name the movement that we were creating. During an in-class brainstorming session, mentor Jay Harris suggested, "What we are doing in life is EVACuating ourselves, officials and other youth...what about EVAC?" And a community movement was born. Whether it was a coincidence or serendipity, the first four letters in the spelling of "evacuation," when reversed, are EVAC.
Some Adult Mentors We Have to Thank:
- Mr. Jay Harris - our mentor and originator of the "EVAC" movement's name
- Mr. Reginald Benyard - For being the original "cave" liberator
- Ms. Loyce Nelson
- Wade "Seven" Johnson
- Boyd Bettis & District Church
- Mae Beth Ragland & St. Johns Community Group
- Garry Bevel, Esq., Child Ombudsperson
- Betsy Dobbins
- Frank Talbot, US Attorney
- Judge Brian Davis
- ...and so many more!!!!!!