Black and Latino students march to Borough Hall to combat stereotypes

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BROOKLYN (PIX11) -- Young Black or Latino male.

5-foot-9 to 6'2".

Last seen wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

Almost everyone of the 400 students at the Expanded Success Initiative program has fit the description at one time or another.

"My interaction with the black and brown youth, across the city but primarily in Brooklyn, is when I see all of you, you're all in handcuffs," Assistant District Attorney Howard Jackson told the young men Friday.

Which is why ESI's executive director Paul Forbes wanted to get them all in the same room. Following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Forbes wanted to make sure each young man knows they can redefine the description.

"I think the description should be hard-working, ambitious, youngsters who are willing to do whatever needs to be done, but needs the support system around them to make that happen," said Forbes.

A support system that includes role models like journalists, radio personalities, and professors.

"Freedom is when you're out in the street having the freedom to be more than the narrative that people told you, you could be," said Dr. Christopher Emdin a professor at Columbia University.

In other words, becoming a ball player or rapper isn't the the only way to avoid getting suffocated by a rap sheet. And it seems like the young men get the message.

"When I talk to my peers and I talk to any other young person, I use what I know and what I've learned which is you can be better than what you are now, always," said student William Seda.

So armed only with the knowledge fresh in their minds, the students representing 40 schools and all five boroughs marched to Brooklyn Borough Hall Friday.

None of them feeling handcuffed by public perception.

"Just looking at everyday media and entertainment, sometimes you don't know that those options do exist. But seeing those speakers today they definitely motivated me and showed me that those options do exist for me," said student Dante Howell.

So as these 400 young men go back to their communities they do so, not as supporters or protesters but, as leaders. Ready to spread the word that they can form their own futures and don't have to be defined by what they see on TV.