The traditional Maasai greeting is “Casserian Engeri” which means “how are the children?” Although the Maasai are known for being a culture which produced some of the fiercest and intelligent warriors, they know that if the children are doing well, the society is doing well. We don’t have to look far in our society to see that the children are not doing well here. At home, in the community and in our schools, too many of our youth are disconnected, experiencing failure and facing violence. Building peace in our schools now requires some changes.
As I write this at the end of April 2016, two events took place this month. The first, I joined colleagues and activists on April 9th to speak at the community event “Building Peace in Our Schools” in Wilmington, DE. The event was sponsored by the grassroots organization Movement for a Culture of Peace, which has been working diligently to change the dialogue on peace, violence and justice within Delaware. They teamed up with Akoben to deliver a diverse panel of speakers, including Will Fuller (principal of Positive CHANGE alternative school), Sadiki Muhammad (sophomore at Appoquinimink High School), Kelly Lumpkin (counselor at Baltz Elementary) and myself. We discussed the impact of violence and trauma on the lives of youth and educators and restorative solutions. Some of the key points included:
- This is hard work: in each of our environments, there was skepticism at first by the staff and students, but soon it became evident that building relationships was working and improving the school’s culture.
- Violence and disconnection are linked: school violence is linked to students and teachers not connecting enough with each other or the school community
- Peace-building is our shared work: this work of building peace in schools is our shared responsibility, not just the work of professionals like social workers, principals, teachers and counselors
The second event happened just 12 days later, when a 16 year old female student was stabbed and beaten to death in a Wilmington high school.
As we faced the common shock of the brutality, it was easy to become disillusioned and hopeless. This was clear evidence that the ‘children are suffering.’ While we are still learning about the nature of the incident, I’ve struggled with how close in time and location these two events occurred. I’ve reflected on the lessons we shared earlier in the month and how important it is that we build school environments of peace and connection. The simple truth is that we must make this work a priority. Our children’s (and our own) safety at schools are at stake. Let’s work together so that we can really say that the “children are doing just fine.”