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September 30, 2014

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Black History Month panel works to change young lives in a positive way

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Panelists discuss the importance of life choices with about 200 students at Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly's 10th annual African American Student Leadership Conference.

Shannon Rabb's 18-year-old-son was on track to attend UNR on a full scholarship to study veterinary medicine when, about a month before high school graduation, he died from a prescription medication overdose.

Rabb, 45, a former crack addict and prostitute, spoke to about 200 high school students Friday morning at the 10th annual African American Student Leadership Conference at the West Las Vegas Library. The event was hosted by Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly in honor of Black History Month.

“I look at you youth and I say to myself, it’s not worth it,” said Rabb. “My son took a Xanax pill, went to sleep and never woke up. He fought hard to get into college — and he didn’t even make it.”

The morning conference, titled “You Can Get With This, Or You Can Get With That,” featured workshops in which students could learn how to better their lives.

On one side of the six-member panel sat retired NFL safety Vernon Fox; Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, and Craig Knight, general manager of KCEP 88.1-FM. On the other sat, Eric Jackson, a former gang member; James Allen, a man who spent over 28 years in prison for murder, and Rabb.

Jackson, now a Clark County gang specialist, told students the horror stories of the gang life: the drugs, being shot and eventual prison time.

“You’re losing so many youth today through gang violence, ignorance — just doing what they want to do instead of what they need to do,” said Jackson, who calls himself the "Grave Robber" because he wants to stop teens “from going to an early grave.”

The students, chosen to attend the conference by their principals, coaches and teachers, were receptive to the panel.

Aarron Albright, a senior at Advanced Technologies Academy, said he felt lucky to hear the stories of people who have lived through tough times.

“I just see how much of a chance I have,” said Albright. “I have to take my opportunities when they come and stay on the straight and narrow.”

Students sat in silence as they heard the fates of panelists who chose drugs and gang life over school. They also heard from the other side.

Assemblywoman Neal told students about how she grew up in the same neighborhood as many of them, but went on to attend the historically black Southern A&M University. Fox talked about the commitment and dedication it took to start in the NFL after barely being drafted.

“Statistics are just numbers,” said Fox. “You can defy the odds. If I can do it, whatever you want to do, you can do it as well.”

Andraya Shaw, a junior at Desert Pines High School, said she took the advice to heart.

“Overall, this experience made me want to go to school and work way harder because seeing where my people come from and where I want to go, it made me want to work really hard,” said Shaw. “This really made a change in me and I hope it made a change in a lot of the other students that came.”

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