"[The] message of hope is a gift to all caring adults." Reverend Alfonso Wyatt, vice president, Fund for the City of New York
Raise Them Up: The Real Deal on Reaching Unreachable Kidsby Kareem Moody, Anitra Budd
The dramatic, real-world experiences of hard-to-reach youth inspire these vivid and compelling essays on effectively connecting with disengaged children. Written by an exgang member and former unreachable kid, the jargon-free approach helps adults be intentional about engagement and turn seemingly dire situations into inspirational success stories. Underlying
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The dramatic, real-world experiences of hard-to-reach youth inspire these vivid and compelling essays on effectively connecting with disengaged children. Written by an exgang member and former unreachable kid, the jargon-free approach helps adults be intentional about engagement and turn seemingly dire situations into inspirational success stories. Underlying each account is an emphasis on the need for a focused, ongoing dialogue with at-risk young people about their unique strengths and opportunities to be healthy, vibrant members of societyagainst all odds. The positive method embodies Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets™ and includes five detailed asset-building suggestions.
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Raise Them Up: The Real Deal on Reaching Unreachable Kids
By Kareem Moody, Anitra Budd
Search Institute PublicationCopyright © 2006 Search Institute
All rights reserved.
The moment I saw the pack of shouting teens outside my window one evening at work, I knew I had a learning opportunity in front of me.
Two girls were arguing loudly in the center of the crowd. They were at each other's throats and obviously upset. Despite the high level of tension, neither had physically touched the other yet, and as I learned when I was a kid, if two people are shouting face-to-face and nobody throws a punch, those people don't really want to fight. This is especially true if the two are friends.
Friendships carry a lot of weight, and young people want to keep their friends. Unfortunately what typically happens is that friends think it's more important to "save face" than make up after an argument. To young people, it seems as if their entire world rests on their reputation. They think if they leave a fight looking scared or weak, they're more likely to get attacked by others who witness the altercation, or hear about it through the grapevine. In this instance, neither girl was about to let that happen by backing down first.
The gathering crowd clearly wanted to see a fight. Luckily, another student who happened to be friends with both girls stepped in and broke it up. By the time the girls were escorted by a staff member to my office, they were very distraught. Apparently, one girl was spreading lies about the other. They'd been having this problem for some time, and today it had come to a head.
Having worked with young people over the years, I know one fact forever rings true: Kids are going to have disagreements, even with their close friends. Maybe they'll be interested in the same boy or girl, or they'll claim, "He said this," or "She said that." Having arguments is a part of being human.
What's important is how adults — program directors, youth workers, parents, coaches, teachers, social workers, truant officers, whoever you are — help kids learn to deal with these conflicts. We adults can't fight their battles and steer them away from all disagreements. Instead, we can try to help them work through disagreements, so they're equipped to deal with future disputes.
I've found that if you can give young people a reasonable solution for resolving a conflict, most times they'll accept it — provided you're offering an approach that focuses on their strengths. And if you can convince them to stop worrying about saving face, most young people will realize the conflict they had wasn't that serious in the first place. It's the overwhelming concern about reputation that can push disagreements past the point of no return.
In my situation, the first step had already been taken — getting the conflict confined to as small a group as possible. Now, in my office, it was just the three of us: two former best friends and one concerned program director. How was I going to get them talking? I knew these girls had been the best of friends at one point, which meant they had a lot of shared memories. I also knew they had enough respect for me to sit and talk, or to at least give it a try. When you are helping young people resolve conflicts, it's an enormous help to have their respect from the beginning of your relationship, prior to any issues coming up.
I had the girls sit in hardback chairs facing one another, knees touching. By having young people sit face-to-face, you allow them to confront the situation head-on, literally and figuratively, and to voice their frustrations in a calm setting.
This setup gives them a chance to listen to each other and decide if they really have a serious problem in the first place. Often young people will get into an altercation without knowing what they're upset about, or knowing if they're really upset at all.
It's the overwhelming concern about reputation that can push disagreements past the point of no return.
When mediating a fight, I like to begin with a little small talk. My tone — one of "a mistake has been made and we're all here to correct it" — never changes. I also try to start off with some shocking statement the kids wouldn't expect me to say. This usually startles them so much they forget they're upset, and I'll go on in this way until they figure out what I'm up to. In this case, I purposely asked the girls if they were fighting over a boy I knew neither liked. I wondered aloud what embarrassing rumors would start circulating, all because of their battle over a guy. I continued on, casually talking about how this must look to the other students, and asking if the winner of their fight would get the boy as her prize.
Naturally, the girls hurried to correct my "mistake." They decided to fill me in on what really happened, both raising their voices over the other in their rush to be heard. I said, "Let the person who started it go first." Both stopped abruptly, only to start up more loudly than before, trying to pass the blame.
Seeing we were getting nowhere fast, I chose one girl and asked her to tell me her side of the story, telling the other that if she didn't disrupt the story she'd get to talk without interruption later. I told them both to listen and take notes while the other talked, so the listener could respond when it was her turn to speak. This is an important part of the mediation process, because it requires each to hear the other's perspective.
By starting off the discussion this way, I helped the girls feel more open to resolving their problem peacefully. Then, I started looking for ways to involve them in the process more directly. Gradually, throughout the conversation, I gave them chances to start taking their fair share of the blame, pausing or pointing out the places where they might have done something offensive or hurtful. On their own, they began to recognize how they might've acted unfairly, or could've handled things differently. I prodded each to sympathize with the other, saying, "Do you think she meant to hurt you?" or "I bet she wishes she could take that back." By apologizing for them both, I was making it easier for them to eventually take the lead and start apologizing for themselves.
I told them how important it was to cherish friends. I talked about what cool friends they'd been; when they were together, they spread fun and laughter wherever they went. I reminded them of the good and bad times they'd shared, and that the people they cared about might not be around forever. Both could name past friends who were once in our center's program but had moved away or just stopped attending altogether.
At this point the girls were no longer snarling at each other, and instead were laughing along with me as I continued to talk about their happy times. They were far removed from the fight, and nearing the "alright point" — the moment when it feels safe to apologize. Now it was just a matter of helping the girls close the deal by giving them a final chance to save face with their friend, and hopefully their peers as well.
I told them each to write a poem about the other, right there in my office. Even though I didn't ask them to share the poems or read them aloud, when they were finished they immediately exchanged papers and read the poems to each other. This was especially touching because both girls did this of their own accord, and it gave each a chance to see what her friend was feeling.
Since I'd asked them to write the poems on the spot and hadn't given them any time for revision, the poems were fairly simple. The girls were so embarrassed by their "corny" rhymes that they now had a joint interest again — keeping those poems secret from their friends! But even though they didn't produce masterpieces, they were able to walk away with something they could laugh about — and laughter's second only to hugs in its ability to mend friendships. Pretty soon all three of us were cracking up like old friends — which is exactly what the two girls had become again.
RAISE THEM UP:
Writing can be a great aid to helping young people solve conflicts, whether you ask them to write down their thoughts before speaking, to write down and repeat what they believe the other person is saying, or to write down ideas on how to keep the peace after the conflict is resolved.
When you are mediating an argument between young people, refrain from playing favorites by letting one person talk more than another, or making comments like, "Just apologize to her, it's clear it was your fault." As much as possible, allow the young people to work toward a solution with minimal input from you.
Sometimes young people can say things on an impulse that they don't mean, especially in the heat of an argument. Allow them to take breaks from a discussion if tensions are running high, or make a rule that they have to take at least 30 minutes to calm down before beginning to resolve a conflict.CHAPTER 2
One spring day, a staff member rushed two P.A.R.K. program participants into my office, informing me that the school bus driver had caught the boys fighting on the bus. I was very embarrassed for the program, the boys, and myself. Although many young people come to P.A.R.K. with reputations for bad behavior, most participants work hard to overcome their past problems. I was sorry the bus driver had seen this sort of behavior from our kids.
When the three of us were alone, I offered the two boys a seat. Ron, the older of the pair, was a short, stocky kid who was pretty serious about becoming a rap artist. At the time he had a group that performed at parties and other places around town. He'd even performed at P.A.R.K. a couple of times, where both staff and students had praised his talent. The other boy, Jake, was tall and slender. I was aware from years of knowing both boys that Jake didn't like Ron much, musical talent or not.
During the time Ron had been at P.A.R.K., I'd noticed how much he wanted the kind of positive attention he'd gotten at those rap performances. Unfortunately, when he wasn't sure how to get good attention, he resorted to purposely annoying people to get any kind of response. This habit had made him pretty unpopular with the other students and, I suspected, provoked the fight on the bus. But at that time I withheld judgment and simply asked Ron to tell me what happened, from his perspective.
He explained that he'd been memorizing some new material and on this particular day, he just happened to be reciting the lyrics on the bus. Jake jumped in to tell me that one of the songs had some very vulgar language and was particularly insulting to women. He went on to say that one young lady grew so tired of the offensive rhymes that she offered five dollars to anyone who could shut Ron up. Jake happily accepted the job and carried it out by hitting Ron in the face. Ron didn't retaliate because by then all of the other young people on the bus were firmly on Jake's side. Luckily the bus driver intervened before the situation got any worse.
After finishing their separate versions of the stories, the two boys sat in front of me with hangdog expressions, waiting expectantly for the punishments they knew were coming. First, I explained to Jake that he had no right to put his hands on another person. As noble as his intentions might've been, he was wrong for the way he'd handled the situation. Knowing he didn't like to write, I instructed him to spend the rest of the afternoon composing a three-page paper on bullying. I also told him to apologize to Ron in front of all the program members and staff the next morning, and to miss his recreation time for a couple of days. He admitted that he was wrong for hitting Ron, and that he felt he'd gotten off easy since fighting is a serious offense at P.A.R.K. He left quickly.
I turned my attention to Ron. I realized his role in the fight called for a special response, one uniquely geared toward his attention-seeking tendencies. My gut told me that if I didn't take strong measures to help him realize the effects his actions had on other people, he might someday end up in an altercation with much more drastic consequences than a punch to the face. Coming up with an idea on the spot, I first admitted how sorry I was about what had happened to him. I told him emphatically that I supported his right to say whatever he wanted, and that if he wanted to be a gangsta rapper he should go right ahead. In fact, to his surprise, I asked to hear the lyrics myself.
He was of course self-conscious about letting me, an adult authority figure, hear them, but I kept pressing the issue. He hesitantly began to rap. I told him to use all the profanity he'd been using earlier. I even asked him to get into character and bounce to the beat as I pounded on my desk.
Once he became more relaxed, I began calling in other staff members to listen. To Ron's surprise, I invited every available female staff person he knew — all women he respected very much. Before long the room was filled with lots of eyes, all watching as I urged him to sing louder. I shouted to him over the lyrics that gangsta rappers have to block out the crowd, that they can't let their feelings get in the way, that in his career, he'd have to face all sorts of people who'd be offended by his music — but he couldn't let that stop him.
As he continued to recite the obscenities, I loudly repeated them until finally, as he stared into all those disappointed faces, he began to cry. He'd learned the lesson, and asked everyone to leave so the two of us could talk.
I knew Ron was having some trouble at home, and was most likely using music as a way to vent his frustration and earn the attention he wanted so badly. I also understood that he was just reciting the lyrics the way he'd heard them, and hadn't added in his own personality, talent, or imagination. I challenged him to be more creative, to really think about what he wanted to say instead of just mouthing someone else's words. To give him an incentive, I said he could be the headliner for our next talent show if he could show me the range and diversity in his music.
One of the powerful outcomes of this incident was learning how everyday conflicts, like a school bus fight, can grow from very complex roots. The situation wasn't just about a slap in the face; it pitted an individual youth's freedom of expression against his moral responsibility to the people he admired. As I told him, even though he had the right to rap in any way he wanted, he'd learned that he had to take other people's feelings into account. Having people in his life he respected, and whose respect he wanted, made the issue of free speech much more complicated.
I challenged him to be more creative, to really think about what he wanted to say instead of just mouthing someone else's words.
Ron was humbled by the experience, and a few months later, when we were able to look back on it and laugh, he said it was one of the worst moments in his musical career. He went on to graduate from P.A.R.K. without any further incidents, and with a newfound respect for the power of words. When I saw him recently, he was hoping to become a mainstream poet and about to release his first rap album — which he quickly and proudly pointed out was completely free of profanity.
RAISE THEM UP:
Your messages will have more power if they are relevant to the personal experiences of the young people in your care. For instance, in this situation you might say, "Ron, how would you feel if someone was shouting these lyrics around your mother or sister?"
It's common for young people to act one way around friends, another way around their families, yet another way around teachers, and so on. When you notice young people expressing the same values and opinions around a variety of people, make sure to compliment them on their integrity and honesty.
Remember to keep your discussions with young people focused on the real issues at hand. For example, if teens are playing loud music in an area where people are trying to study, concentrate your comments on being respectful of others rather than criticizing their musical taste.CHAPTER 3
i hate school
One morning I came in to work and the receptionist gave me a message: a man named Tony had called and said he'd stop by to see me later that day. He'd told her I would know who he was, but I honestly couldn't say I did. Puzzled, I went up to my office, set the message aside, and sat down to work.
I spent most of the day playing the name over and over in my head, trying to jog my memory. That afternoon my musing was interrupted when a tall, lanky man with a deep voice walked into my office and said, "Hello." When I looked up, he broke into a big smile and said, "I'm done." I immediately recognized him: it was Tony, a young man who'd just finished four years at my alma mater. When he'd started college I'd told him I would have a job for him after graduation, and he'd apparently remembered that conversation. Although Tony would eventually take another job instead of the one I offered, his visit prompted me to reflect on the connections between school and lifelong education.
Excerpted from Raise Them Up: The Real Deal on Reaching Unreachable Kids by Kareem Moody, Anitra Budd. Copyright © 2006 Search Institute. Excerpted by permission of Search Institute Publication.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Kareem Moody is the program director of P.A.R.K. (Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids), an after-school programfounded by All-Pro NFL Tight-End Keith Jacksonthat gives underachieving students in eighth through twelfth grades a chance to go to college and receive a scholarship. He lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. Anitra Budd is an editor and freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in several regional and national publications, including the fedgazette and Rain Taxi Review of Books. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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