Fighting Youth Violence Before It Starts: Students and Professor of Teacher Education Deliver Messages of Mentoring, Collaboration
Every year since Richard Gordon’s 17-year-old son, Kwame, was fatally shot at a party in 2006, the California State University, Dominguez Hills professor of teacher education has honored his memory with an annual dinner to raise funds for a scholarship at the Waldorf School in Altadena. The school, which Kwame Gordon attended from kindergarten through the eighth grade, provides its students with an education that helps them grasp academics through imaginative and interdisciplinary methods.
In a similar way, Richard Gordon seeks to help his neighbors understand that violence is not unique to low-income communities and underserved youth. A major component of Kwame’s memorial are guest speakers, many of whom are his father’s faculty colleagues and their students at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who provide information and testimonials on how violence has impacted their lives, and their recovery from the trauma.
“The Waldorf community feels that they are part of the broader community, they don’t feel like they are isolated or that the troubles are on the outside,” says Gordon. “They just want to know how to get better involved and what they can do to make the world a better place.”
At this year’s memorial, alumni from the Negotiation, Conflict Resolution, and Peacebuilding (NCRP) program at CSU Dominguez Hills were invited by Nancy Erbe, associate professor, NCRP, to be guest speakers. Last month. Ebony Martin (Class of ’10, M.A., NCRP), Sarah Moreau (Class of ’00, M.A., NCRP), and Kiana Moten (Class of ’09, M.A., NCRP) all related their personal experiences, how they were able to cope with their losses, and how they are working to prevent further acts of violence.
Erbe’s international experiences as a mediator and expert on conflict resolution in the Balkans and the Middle East led her to realize that back home in Los Angeles “many were dying in L.A. ‘wars’ and violence.” Upon arriving at the university in 2004, she began to find ways to do her part to help prevent the spread of violence.
“When I came to CSU Dominguez Hills, I met many students who have tragically lost family members to local violence and also students who had been gang affiliated but were fortunately able to leave [the gangs] and build good lives,” she says. “I began searching for ways to do my part in preventing such tragedy.”
“NCRP training teaches several alternative tools for conflict resolution and peacebuilding, including those that are effective in responding to violence,” says Erbe. “Most importantly, it builds the conscious community needed to say no to a culture that glorifies and rewards violence.”
Moreau had a first-hand glimpse of violence in her neighborhood and school. Although not involved in gangs herself, her life was directly affected by rampant gang activity in her South Central community in Los Angeles. She says that when it comes to raising community awareness, it is wrong to assume that only gang-involved youth are at risk.
“While [young people] travel to and from school, they are targeted by drug dealers and gang members,” she says. “In junior high school, I recall walking to and from school through several gang territories and being jumped on by gang members because of the neighborhood I lived in. I’ve lost many childhood friends to death or the prison system. In the last 10 years, there have been several school-related murders from preschool to university campuses. Unfortunately, all youth are at risk for violence.”
In 2003, Moreau designed a 10-week after school self-esteem program titled “Imagine Me in We” for PasadenaLEARNS. The curriculum, which she wrote for 5th and 6th graders, met Pasadena Unified School District Language Arts standards and focused on individual responsibility, positive attitude, and teamwork. Moreau says that citizens can help prevent violence among youth by serving as role models who embody these qualities.
“Anyone can be a role model,” she says. “Citizens may consider...serving as active members of organizations that [educate] our youth on positive alternatives to criminal careers and divert them from becoming first-time offenders in the juvenile justice system.”
Moreau is currently president of the NCRP Affinity Association at CSU Dominguez Hills. The organization is co-hosting a conference on conflict resolution with the Office of Outreach and Information Services on Sept. 24 in the Loker Student Union. Local junior high, high school, and community college students are scheduled to attend the conference, which will feature guest speaker Forrest (Woody) Mosten, an internationally recognized mediation expert.
Recent NCRP graduate Ebony Martin conducted research on how collaborative efforts can reduce the number of juveniles who join gangs. She says there is a need to attack the underlying causes that attract youth to join gangs in the first place, having found that most gang members begin their involvement as very young children.
“Juvenile gangs are a serious problem throughout the nation, threatening public safety and damaging young lives not only in large urban areas but also in many smaller cities and rural areas” Martin states. “Joining a gang can have serious, far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for all concerned, including a prison sentence. There is an urgent need to mobilize the creative energies of the entire community in a comprehensive campaign to identify the nature and extent of the gang problem, to prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs, to intervene with gang-involved youth to redirect their lives on a positive course, to suppress crime, and to respond to the needs of crime victims and witnesses. The ultimate goal is to prevent youth from joining gangs to further prevent violence and obtain lasting peace within neighborhoods and communities.”
Martin believes collaboration between parents and teachers in watching for early signs of gang involvement in children is a key strategy to preventing them from joining gangs.
“Parents must also understand their importance of being a positive role model because a lot of what children do is learned in the home,” she says. “Parental involvement with teachers can help prevent problems of truancy, and community education on gang culture will help parents and teachers to identify early signs of gang involvement which can lead to reduced violence.”
Kiana Moten had just begun the NCRP program at CSU Dominguez Hills when her husband was shot and killed three blocks away from home by unknown and as yet, unfound perpetrators. The mother of a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, with whom she was pregnant when her husband was killed, Moten says that she is already planting the seeds of awareness and prevention of at-risk behavior in her children.
“There are a lot of things they understand now,” says Moten, who is applying to serve as a volunteer mediator for Centinela Youth Services. “My son was playing with his Nintendo DSi and got mad because he didn’t win. He hit the [game unit] against the cart. A simple concept is that it’s not okay to hit. I discuss the importance of speaking with words [not violent behavior] and expressing yourself verbally. These are issues they face now in preschool. If we could start at the ground level with coping mechanisms on how to handle anger, this is how we can start [preventing violence].”
Martin conducted her research on community collaboration by studying gang intervention programs in the cities of Carson and Paramount. She hopes to become a community advocate in her hometown of Carson and says that, “Mentoring youth is extremely important as it’s critical to remain in open dialogue with them and understand their needs, wants and concerns, and help them stay on a positive path.”
Erbe says that all youth are at risk because of the way that violence is romanticized and glorified for them, particularly for young males, in cultures around the world.
“Without a close trusted adult mentor who can help make reality-based decisions and [provide] hope for their futures, too many of our youth are living on the edge of semi-suicidal existences that flirt with many dangers,” she says.
“Many youth have no one to talk to or turn to. We cannot expect parents to do all that is needed because youth need to experiment and individuate from their parents, no matter how loving [their relationship is]. We can all commit to mentoring at least one youth not in our immediate family. Familes, churches, and communities can ‘adopt’ youth who have no one.”
In the months after his son Kwame was killed, Richard Gordon established a mentoring program at CSU Dominguez Hills for students from urban high schools in Los Angeles called Transition Institutes. The program, which has been renamed Ways to Enhance Achievement and Resiliency in Education (WE ARE), focuses on self-esteem, time management, conflict resolution and looking to the future. The program was hosted by CSU Dominguez Hills in 2006, 2008, and 2009, and will be held on campus again this fall. Gordon says that the experience of working with WE ARE attendees is inspiring, but there remains a great need for continued education and community outreach.
“You don’t know what forces come to bear on a particular night at a particular event when a tragedy happens,” says Gordon. “It’s more than just black and white, good and bad. There’s a whole constellation of things that take place. We need to slow down and see that.”
For information on the NCRP program at CSU Dominguez Hills, click here.
For more information on the NCRP Affinity Association at CSU Dominguez Hills, contact Moreau at (310) 991-0645.
- Joanie Harmon
Photo above: Ebony Martin, an alumna of the Negotiation, Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding program at CSU Dominguez Hills, has done extensive research on how community efforts can reduce gang violence.
Courtesy of Ebony Martin