Jena 6 students get some positive publicity

P6264495Jesse Ray (Jody) Beard, best known as the youngest member of the Jena 6, is finishing High School at a private boarding school in Connecticut.  CNN recently interviewed Jesse Ray and Alan Howard, the NY attorney who has taken the young man under his wing.  You can find the text version of the story here.  I had the privilege of getting to know Mr. Howard during my last trip to Jena (in the picture at the left, he and attorney David Utter chat with Jesse Ray) and was moved by the depth of his commitment. 

Also, the newspaper in Monroe, Louisiana did a story about Robert Bailey, Jr., another Jena 6 student who will be entering Grambling University in the fall.  Robert took a couple of summer school classes at Grambling this summer and earned a 4.0 average.  The story is unavailable online but the text is pasted below. The picture at the beginning of the article shows Robert lifting weights in June of 2009.

As the story suggests, the Bailey family has a long tradition at Grambling.   The second picture I have inserted into the news story features Robert’s grandmother during her Grambling days.  Elegant, don’t you think?  At the very end, the educational plans of all six young men are noted briefly. 

I hope Justin Barker, the victim of the December 4th, 2007 assault at Jena High, is also looking at a bright future.  Friends of Justice got involved in Jena not to pick sides but to bring some redemption to a tragic situation.  Are we better off with these young men attending college classes or locked up in a state prison? 

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July 19, 2009

Former Jena Six student hopes to overcome past, look to future

By Stephen Largen

slargen@monroe.gannett.com

GRAMBLING — What might have sucked most people into a downward spiral only seems to have made Robert Bailey Jr. more determined to turn his life around.

Bailey, 19, is one of the Jena Six — six black Jena High School students initially charged with attempted murder in connection with a Dec. 4, 2006, assault on white student Justin Barker at the LaSalle Parish school.

The controversial case drew attention across the nation after many called the arrests and subsequent charges racially discriminatory and excessive. A massive civil rights demonstration ensued on Sept. 20, 2007, when at least 20,000 people marched through Jena to protest.

Bailey wrapped up his legal issues late last month when, along with Carwin Jones, Jesse Ray Beard, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw, he pleaded no contest in a Jena courtroom to misdemeanor simple battery. Bailey and the others were sentenced to seven days of unsupervised probation and a $500 fine, but were given no jail time.

They also reached a confidential settlement out of court with Barker.

The only member of the group to serve time was Mychal Bell, who pleaded guilty in December 2007 to second-degree battery and was sentenced to 18 months.

Now, after graduating in May from Shaw High School in Columbus, Ga., Bailey is taking summer classes at Grambling State University, where he plans to major in marketing. Bailey also will attempt to walk onto the football team as a wide receiver.

P6264434For Bailey, GSU was a natural choice. His grandmother, mother and several aunts went to the historically black college.

“That’s all I hear is Grambling,” Bailey said.

“In my house it was Grambling this, Grambling that — especially during football season.”

Bailey’s mother, Caseptla Bailey, who lives in Jena, is happy with her son’s decision to study at her alma mater.

“I’m very pleased with him,” Caseptla Bailey said. “I think something positive came out of all this. I think it was good he moved and got away from Jena. People here are still talking about the case. I still feel that people hold a grudge.”

Can’t go back

Robert Bailey said he has only been back to Jena for a total of three or four days since the controversy exploded.

He said he’s made the choice to keep a low profile.

“When people ask me where I’m from, I don’t like to say Jena,” Bailey said.

“People say ‘You know that’s going to stick with you for the rest of your life, right?’ I’m like, ‘For real?’ And I think about it, like, ,you’re gonna be 40 years old and people are going to look at you like you’re that Jena Six boy. I think it is going to stay with me, but it depends how you look at it. I just choose not to suck myself back into that environment where I know I’m going to get the finger pointed at me. I just choose to stay away.”

Bailey also chose to stay out of the spotlight at Shaw, where he enrolled in January 2008 and stayed with family after being kicked out of Jena High.

For his first six months at the school, Bailey didn’t even use his own name.

Instead, he went by the pseudonym “Xavier Lee,” until a local media outlet identified him as a member of the Jena Six.

“The media found out I was in Columbus,” Bailey said.

“I had people coming to me like, ‘Dang, that’s one of them boys. You seen one of those Jena Six boys?’ I was like, ‘Nah, I ain’t seen him,'” Bailey said with a laugh. “I keep to myself, I try to stay to my own business.”

Bailey was granted a final year of athletic eligibility by the Georgia High School Association.

He used that year to help lead the football team to the state playoffs.

“We did pretty good,” Bailey said.

“We made it to the state playoffs. I had 23 catches, 350 yards, four touchdowns.”

Bailey drew scholarship interest from several Division II teams but chose GSU instead.

“I just chose to come to Grambling just off of love. I want to be here,” he said.

Grambling’s alumni association has pitched in to make Bailey feel welcome.

One of the chapters has given him a textbook scholarship for his freshman year.

Bailey said he’s looking forward to catching footballs in the fall.

“I don’t plan on watching,” he said.

“I plan on being out there on the field.”

But Bailey doesn’t believe his future lies with athletics.

He plans to go law school after graduating from GSU.

“People always told me I was good at debating,” he said.

‘No choice but to succeed.’

Baton Rouge attorney Jim Boren, who served as Bailey’s lawyer, said his client has seized the opportunity to change his life.

“Robert has overcome it,” Boren said.

“He didn’t continue in a downward spiral. He picked himself up. He picked up his books and made a success of himself, and it’s just the beginning.”

Boren said Bailey is not the only member of the Jena Six to successfully move past the case.

“All the kids have left Jena and excelled,” he said.

“They haven’t gotten into any serious trouble. We’re all very proud of what they’ve done since then.”

Bailey said he still talks to all the other members of the group, and they encourage and motivate each other.

“Everybody’s started a new life,” he said.

“Everybody knows we got a second chance, and we know what we have to do. We’re grown now. You’re gonna have to be up at night studying for that final the next day. It’s what we’ve got to do. Work hard for your position in sports or whatever you choose to do.”

Bailey said the support he’s received throughout the world motivated him to continue on to GSU.

“I ain’t got no choice but to succeed in life,” he said.

“I can’t be on that negative end because I look at all the people that helped me out. They’re gonna be like, ‘Dang, we marched for nothing.'”

Additional Facts

jena six “” Where are they now?

¢ Robert Bailey Jr. is enrolled at Grambling State University and will attempt to walk on to the football team.

¢ Mychal Bell is enrolled at Southern University and will attempt to walk on to the football team.

¢ Jesse Ray Beard is finishing high school in Connecticut.

¢ Carwin Jones is planning to go to college in Texas starting in August.

¢ Bryant Purvis is enrolled at a community college in Texas and plays on the basketball team.

¢ Theo Shaw is enrolled at Louisiana Delta Community College in Monroe and was elected vice president of the school’s student government association for the 2009-2010 school year.

Former Jena 6 student Robert Bailey Jr. is taking classes at GSU and will try to make the football team in the fall.

7 thoughts on “Jena 6 students get some positive publicity

  1. Thanks in large part to Friends of Justice these young people are now pursuing fruitful lives rather than being locked up in a prison cell somewhere. Would even the DA agree that this is a preferable outcome?

  2. Yes, what a blessing to hear something good and positive for a change. Especially the events that have transpired since this incident. Friends of Justice….keep up the good work at these bringing unjustices to the forefront. Now let’s see if we can get some justice for Curtis Flowers over in Winona, Mississippi. We want to get the national spotlight on him. Never in my life have I heard of anyone going to trial 6 times for the same charges. How did this get this far and what kind of blood thirsty D. A is that who has 4 dead people, but never, ever had but one suspect?
    Another story about southern small town racial mentality!!

  3. Reading this makes me feel great. Thanks, Alan, for all you do to make this world a better place.
    Best of luck to the six men in your article today.

  4. the “confidential settlement out of court with Barker” was a statement from all of the jena 6 “heroes” stating that barker had never done anything racially biased to provoke them. They acted out of racist motives themselves. And Bailey went to jail again in texas for slamming a kids head in a locker for bumping his brand new car (baileys) with his door (a white kid, SURELY its coincidental). Not a very happy story after all, you would think he would want to avoid more assault charges. These are your heroes.

  5. Thank you for sharing your views. I’m not sure how you came to know the contents of a confidential settlement. I think you have Bryant Purvis in mind, not Robert Bailey. Finally, no one, certainly not me, has ever referred to the Jena 6 as heroes, nor would they want to be considered in this light. Their plight took on symbolic significance for a lot of people, but not because they were heroes. I should also point out that not all the Jena 6 defendants were necessarily involved in the assault on Barker; they signed the statement for the common good.

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