As another school year came to a close, I found myself reflecting on my final unit with the students, a violence awareness campaign which included anti-violence themed drawings which the students photographed, then edited using the Wooden Camera app on the iPad, and finally assembled into a slideshow to the tune of Marvin Gay’s “What’s Going on” (the students’ choice!). The entire process was inspiring, and my students were honest, courageous, and honestly a little surprising. The majority of them created memorial pieces featuring angels, crosses, roses, and banners reading “rest in peace…” Some of them drew or traced guns twisted into peace signs or x’s. Others included images of body outlines and statistics such as “homicide is the leading cause of death for black males ages 12-19.” (As reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
After hearing the news of a total of 3 separate shootings, all involving teenagers, over one weekend in Hampton, I struggled with whether or not to go forward with this unit, which I had planned to begin the next day. After realizing that it was only my own fears that were holding me back, I decided to tackle to issue head-on, and knew that this was what my students needed. Because not only did we all know the young men who were shot, there were many of us who knew the alleged shooters. Some of them sat right beside me in my classes.
Looking back, I realized just how smoothly our final lesson had gone. How engaged the students had been, and how encouraging they were to each other. This is when I realized, I’m not working in a short-term facility at all. I know these kids, and they know me. We’re comfortable. We know what to expect from each other, and most importantly, we know how to support each other. While my detention center may technically be a short term “holding tank” while students await trials and sentences, the reality is that they do come back time after time. Sometimes they even stay for years due to mistrials or appeals. But the positive side of this is that, despite the highly-emotional topic and conflicting sides, they were comfortable to bear their hearts.
On the last day of school, my students and I talked about the different between self-defense and revenge. Many of them quickly identified the fact that revenge is pre-meditated, which opened the door for a discussion about how this type of violence can be prevented if the cycle of teenagers killing teenagers is ever going to stop. I encourage everyone to visit www.cureviolence.org, which my students and I studied during our final unit. It’s a great site where you can not only learn more about how the city of Chicago is working to change its culture of violence, but how to view violence in a different way… as an epidemic, which will continue to spread unless we help interrupt its course.