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Crime & Justice

After Recent Violence, Charlotte Photographer Alvin Jacobs Worries About Lasting Impact On Students Like His Son

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Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.
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On the left is the text exchange between Alvin Jacobs and his 16-year-old son. The photo on the right shows the long line Jacobs waited in to pick up his son.

When Alvin C. Jacobs Jr. woke up to a text from his 16-year-old son last Thursday, he had a moment of confusion as to what he was reading.

That confusion quickly turned to panic. In the text, his son told him that there was supposedly going to be a school shooting.

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Alvin C. Jacobs Jr
Charlotte-based image activist Alvin C. Jacobs Jr worries about the trauma students are experiencing with the ongoing violence in the city.

"You want to keep your child as calm as possible. You don't want to get all excited because what can they do? Where can they go? They can't even leave the classroom. " Jacobs said. "So you're just like, OK, you know, I'll just be on my way there, you know, real calm. But you're not calm. You're not calm."

It took Jacobs about 15 minutes to get to North Mecklenburg High; he was there by 7:45 a.m. But there was a 45-minute wait in line until he could see his son — many parents had the same idea and were also arriving.

"I wasn't prepared, it was heavy, you know and it wasn't until later that I'm like, 'Oh, OK,' because I'm standing in line like this ain't really the place to be if something goes left," he said. "You know, like I'm safer at home, he’s safer at home. Standing outside, looking around, you know, you're not afraid. But you never know."

Students can be subjected to trauma, even if a shot isn’t fired on school grounds. And Jacobs, a photographer who has documented civil unrest around the country, worries about the impact this trauma is having on students.
Trauma, Jacobs says, has a way of growing — especially on young people of color like his son.
"Safety is important," he said. "Without that, how can you possibly learn? And he’s a young, African American young man. The way we go through life, a lot of of Americans are now like, 'Oh, my God, how did this happen?' This is how we grow up, Black and brown people, specifically, ones who are poorer. Our neighborhoods, our environmental safeguards, aren’t really in our favor."

He wants his son and his peers to understand this level of anxiety around school safety should not be normal. And he wants to know what’s being done to make sure students are processing this trauma in a way that makes sense for their age.

"Children coming from different backgrounds and subjected to different family structures are going to respond to not just trauma differently, but respond to life differently," he said. "We aren’t looking at what’s going on socially, like we aren't asking these children, 'Are you OK? This isn't normal.'"

Jacobs is trying to have those conversations with his son. But, it’s not always easy getting a 16-year-old to open up. The car ride home from school last Thursday was a quiet one.

"I didn't really ask him a lot of questions," Jacobs said. "I was just like, 'Man, just kind of pay attention to what's going on and just let me know if you ever need or feel some kind of way. Don't even think about it. I'll come get you.'"

Jacobs doesn’t want to push his son to talk if he doesn’t want to. But he does want his son to know the line of communication is always open and that he’s ready to hold that space for him, especially when it comes to conversation around his safety.

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