Parents say rapper's arrests send mixed message

For the last two years, Atlanta rapper T.I. has been making the rounds at schools and community centers with his message about staying out of trouble and away from drugs. Wednesday night, he found himself in the very situation he cautioned local youth to avoid.

Thomasina Jacobs says what bothers her most about the drug arrest of T.I. and his wife, Tameka "Tiny"Cottle, is that young people look up to him.

“I tell my boys, ‘I’m your role model',” said the College Park mother of two. “ ‘Your father is your role model'.”

Jacobs, 40, said she has no idea how she will explain the rapper's misstep, especially to her 10-year-old son Tyriq Banks.

“He loves T.I.” she said. "I know he's going to have lots of questions."

The 29-year-old rapper, whose real name is Clifford Harris Jr., was arrested along with his wife during a traffic stop in West Hollywood. They were released Thursday morning after each posted a $10,000 bail.

Jacobs, who recently met the rapper during a speaking engagement at Atlanta Metropolitan College, said she was shocked when she heard the news of his latest arrest.

“He was so sincere,” she recalled. “He walked from one end of the floor to the other. He didn’t let his people rush him. He took the time to really talk and listen to the kids.”

Harris’s appearance before the Community Teen Coalition Inc., a nonprofit youth enrichment program founded by Dominic Stokes, was one of nearly 200 made as part of a first-of-its-kind plea agreement. The pact included performing 1,000 hours of community service telling kids about the importance of getting an education, setting goals, working hard to achieve goals and staying away from violence and drugs.

Despite his legal troubles, parents said they believe the rapper’s talks with the youth had a positive impact.

“The kids were starstruck, of course, but it was a good forum,” said Sabrina King, who attended the event with her 13-year-old daughter Raven Jones.

“I thought he was really sincere, but after today I feel a little differently,” Jones said. “He tells them to do one thing then he does the complete opposite.”

Marilee Aronson, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Washington, D.C., said it is important to explain to children that we often teach what we most need to learn.

"Talking publicly about staying off of drugs might reflect the fact that T.I.’s own inner conflict was speaking pretty loudly to him," she said. "Children need to understand that the change process can be hard and can take time."

Aronson said that when struggling with addiction and recovery, relapse is often part of that process. But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe what he was saying about staying away from drugs.

"In fact, he may truly want to prevent other young people from going through what is happening to him," she said. "He is human, like all of us, but his healing is very public because he is such a public figure."

Landon Brown, principal of Lindley 6th Grade Academy in Cobb County, said that Harris spoke sincerely during his visit three years ago about the mistakes he'd made and the consequences.

"Many of our at-risk kids are going down the same path and it is often beneficial for them to hear from someone they can relate to," Brown said. "The kids clearly heard the message about how the choices they make now may have consequences that affect their futures."

Stokes said that while he regrets Harris' about-face, "it just shows he's human."

He said the rapper spoke eloquently about his past, his upbringing and encouraged the 50 or so youth in attendance to get an education.

And when the youth asked if the images his music portrays were reality, he said, Harris assured them it was entertainment that it was about selling records.

"Apparently it's part of his reality, too," Stokes said.