Think Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. Rihanna and Chris Brown. Or Tamika Lashond Mack, the 24-year-old St. Petersburg mother shot to death on Easter in the home of a man with 12 arrests and a prison record. As Mack's tight-knit family struggles to make sense of the relationship they knew nothing of, a handful of community leaders are scrambling to save other young women from similar attachments and the trouble they could bring.
Saturday, they gathered about 100 teenage girls for a session of collective wisdom and talks about the repercussions of bad choices.
Like the one Monique Baker, now 52, made. She was picked up for trafficking cocaine and served 22 years in prison. "More years than you've been on this earth,'' she told the 13- to 18-year-olds.
Lori Gibson, 44, said she was arrested in a crowded Burger King parking lot. She was picking up a package for a boyfriend, "a big drug dealer," whom she wanted to please. "He wooed me. He said the right things,'' said Gibson, now a social worker.
She missed nine years of her children's lives.
Kristina Hollingsworth, molested at 5, became a promiscuous teenager. "I was the girl in the backseat. I was the one in the alley," the 23-year-old social worker and poet said.
Organizers titled Saturday's program "Choices & Consequences: Why Good Girls Like Bad Boys."
With his 13-year-old daughter in the audience, Kori Monroe, 39, a former "bad boy," forthrightly dispensed truths from his past. On the streets he learned that money and women make a boy a man, he said. He sold drugs.
He warned against becoming attracted to a guy because of his nice car or jewelry. "Don't just look at the money. Don't look at the popularity. (Ask) 'where are they going to be in the next five years?' " said Monroe, owner of a construction company.
The girls sitting in neat rows in the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum at 2240 Ninth Ave. S listened attentively.
Sameria Sandy, 17, was there at the urging of her mother. "As a parent, there's so much you can teach your child,'' Tonya Sandy said in an email. "But I feel that there's always someone else who has a better story to tell and they will listen."
Sameria said she now has "a better knowledge of really what to look for" in a future boyfriend.
"Just by having sex, it doesn't get what you want,'' said Maiya Stevenson, 17. "The best way to get what you want is to respect yourself, respect your body. You're your own person. You're unique.''
That was the perspective emphasized by actor Kimberly Elise, who flew from Los Angeles to share her no-nonsense advice. It's not so much about saying no to bad boys, said Elise, whose films include Beloved and Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
"It's saying yes to yourself," she said, going on to talk about self-worth, values, financial responsibility and health.
Having a healthy, positive relationship means loving yourself first, the self-proclaimed health nut and vegan said. "Do you eat fast food? Do you gossip? How much time do you spend reading texts or reading Facebook? Do you meditate? Loving yourself means valuing your body, your mind," she said.
Elise told the star-struck girls not to let anyone tell them that their earning power is limited. Nor should they believe they should accept a guy who cheats or is abusive because he pays the bills.
"You do not need a man to do that for you,'' she said.
Growing up in a Minnesota suburb with few black students in her high school, Elise, 45, said she had little opportunity to date. Her bad boy, a would-be musician and DJ, was from the city. She dated him against her parents' wishes.
"I was starved for validation from a boy my age," Elise told her rapt audience.
"I became a shadow of myself. … I was so addicted to him."
The break came when she went away to college. "I found I didn't need his validation as much. … I got the courage to walk away from my bad boy."
The man Tamika Mack was visiting the night she was killed, Tore V. Holley, 29, served two stints in state prison, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records. While the world was focused on Trayvon Martin's shooting, state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, wondered, "Who was yelling for justice for Tamika?
"I wanted to make something good happen out of a bad and tragic situation. It occurred to me that there are hundreds of Mikas. How do we reach out to girls like Mika? And while it seems that the concentration is on the bad boys, good girls need support sometimes in saying no to naughty boys."
He approached Gwendolyn Reese and other "strong black women in the community" about organizing a Mother's Day weekend program to offer such support. Reese and her small group put together the conference in three weeks, turning away dozens of girls as spaces rapidly filled.
The effort was important, said Ray Tampa, Tamika Mack's uncle and a former president of the local NAACP.
"As far as the lessons these young ladies learned this weekend, it's all about choices,'' he said. "It's about having the right skill set to make the decision that could save their lives."
Elise left a primer of sorts.
"Develop a positive mind-set, accept yourself,'' she said. "Don't compare yourself to anyone you see on TV or videos. Focus on your attributes. Make a habit of policing your thoughts. Treat yourself with respect.
"Surround yourself with honorable people who genuinely affirm you. … You're magnificent. … It's not about him. It's about you. You're the master of your life."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.