CINCINNATI — Western Hills High School senior C.J. Scott doesn't know where America will be with regard to race relations in the next five years.
He wonders how society will ever become unified during this time of racial injustice and inequities.
"Honestly, it's been bringing me anger, and it's a common theme in our community right now, which is anger," Scott said.
"Why are we still dealing with the same stuff that our ancestors were dealing with? At the same time the pandemic was bringing America together, closer. Our communities were coming together to help each other. But now that George Floyd had died and all this stuff happened just within the past month itself — now America is back separated."
Scott, 17, was one of several high school students who participated in a weekly "Speak Up and Speak Out" video conference Cincinnati Public Schools hosted this month.
The students discussed several topics over the past three weeks, including strategies on ways to improve civic duties including voting opportunities, school curriculum and instruction and interactions with police.
"I think it's a good start, honestly," Scott said. "But I think there needs to be more action behind everything that is going on. We need to first acknowledge what needs to be done and then we fix it."
Scott had a strong, clear voice in the forum; he wants solutions.
"I would like for us to be able to get back to the point where we can be around each other -- blacks, whites, Hispanics -- everybody can be around each other without having this feeling of uncomfortable, underlying racism or anything in our hearts," Scott said.
"Or feeling like I have to be more careful around you because of what your ancestors did. I just want us to be able to treat each other like we are all family. But that's going to be a long time down the road. It's something to work toward, you know?"
For the past three weeks, the students had honest conversations about race and society. They also shared how they've stayed connected to family, friends, work and sports.
"Listening to the students today, I'm just totally impressed by their leadership ability, their thought process," Walnut Hills boys basketball coach Ricardo Hill said. "And I think they were right on point with every single topic. The police collaboration, the educational system -- how they want to be impactful moving forward."
Scott, a National Honor Society student and football standout, shared with the other students that he has been praying more during this uncertain time.
"Me being a black man in America, it's just you never know when something is going to happen," Scott said.
Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Laura Mitchell and Cincinnati Public Schools athletics manager Josh Hardin created the idea for the forum earlier this month.
Hardin said the discussions are a significant starting point to continue the dialogue into the school year.
"To hear some of the things that our students are saying is just so powerful and so real," Hardin said.
One discussion point went directly to how the students feel the schools need to update what is being taught in social studies and English classes.
"I feel like if we put more African American history in the curriculum then more people will understand and feel how we feel," Western Hills senior La'Arion Pringle said.
Educators, along with business and civic leaders around the city, answered questions and offered perspective to the students during each of the weekly forums. Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac was a guest earlier today.
All the community leaders were inspired by the students.
Hardin said after the initial video meeting June 3 he and his colleagues took notes on everything that Scott said. C.J. is also known as Chris.
"He's always had a consistent strong voice and message," Hardin said. "Chris has definitely stood out to me as being a leader - not only as a student-athlete but as a student in Cincinnati Public Schools and a young African American male in the city of Cincinnati and state of Ohio."
Scott is in his fourth season of playing football with the Mustangs. The quarterback/defensive back has enjoyed working out with teammates this summer while offering a life perspective off the field, too.
"I feel like I have more of a responsibility to show them that you don't have to deal with everything out of a victim mindset or you have to deal with everything like, 'Oh they're against me, they're against me,'" Scott said.
"I'm just trying to show them that you can live your life but live it smart. Just don't live loose. You've got to be careful on the things you do, places you go and to always watch your surroundings. That's my biggest thing -- knowing your surroundings more than anything."
Scott said while he likes hearing conversations with students and the administration, he wants to see more discussion among students themselves this upcoming school year on how to address various concerns.
"The kid has a great demeanor, great rapport with the teachers, with the administration," Western Hills athletic director Phillip O'Neal said. "He's going to play a vital role this year."
Scott, who has attended protests, said he wants to help bring about true change.
"It's just a matter of us being willing to stand in the face and not provoke violence and not do this but also demand what we need," he said. "Not only demand what we need but demand our race to be treated as humans. I just want justice -- that's it."