Five years after Jena 6, how are things today? It seems as if they are pretty much back to normal.
"I'm just trying to get on with my life," Justin Barker told the Associated Press.
In 2006, Barker was beaten by six Black schoolmates in a small community of about 3,000 people known as Jena, Louisiana. He woke up in an emergency room with his right eye swollen and jaw fractured.
No evidence showed Barker to be directly involved, but it was said that the events were sparked after August 30, 2006, when a Black student asked if he could sit under a tree on campus or if it was for white students only.
The next morning three nooses hung in the tree.
Barker may have been the victim in the physical case, but media attention turned quickly to the six young Black men, not him. Why? Because the group, who later became known as the “Jena Six,” were charged with attempted murder, a charge that many called too excessive.
Thousands of demonstrators including Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and community leaders organized protests to denounce what they considered racism in the justice system. The case received a large amount of media attention for the murder charges considered too severe and because no charges were brought against those who hung the nooses.
Later the charges against the “Jena 6” were dropped, but now, almost five years later, all the young men involved just want to get on with their lives.
Carwin Jones (then 18); Robert Bailey (then 17); Mychal Bell (then 16); Bryant Purvis (then 17); Jesse Ray Beard (then 14); and Theo Shaw (then 17), have moved away and say they have learned from their past; moreover, they have plans to go far in life and become lawyers, sports agents, military men and more.
"Because of what happened, I grew up. I learned things too, like doing things the right way," said Bailey, who is a wide receiver at Grambling State University and a member of the ROTC.
"I do think it was a situation that helped me to develop character and be a better person," said Shaw, who plans to attend law school and is now studying political science and history at Louisiana University-Monroe. "But beyond that, I don't think of it much anymore."
Barker now works on an oil rig and helps his father cut timber. He says that he’s put all of the events behind him.
Unlike hate crimes that may have happened 40 years ago, the young men show that you can live, learn, grow and move on — a lesson many adults still have yet to learn.
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(Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty Images)
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