A Brother with a Resolution
America is constantly inundated with negative news concerning inner-city schools. From excessive violence, to teen pregnancy and a dropout problem, mainstream media would have one believe that all urban educational institutions are a battleground in which our soldiers cannot prevail.
However, conflict resolution programs such as Lead for America (LFA), located in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area and led by community leader Marlon Terrell, are proving their skeptics wrong by exposing youth to alternative methods of resolving conflicts, taught by their very own peers.
“(Conflict resolution programs) tend to be really eye opening to them,” explains Terrell. “When they are in an environment in which they can share their ideas and they come up with all the answers, it empowers them to want to do more, share more and learn more.”
The fact that LFA is dedicated to developing young leaders who will then teach their peers the lessons they learn from conflict resolution programs makes this organization stand out. Often, when youth are preached to by their elders there is a generational disconnect that exists as children believe older generations cannot relate to their problems. However, when taught by someone in their age group, children may be more receptive to the guidance that is given.
Although many programs are just designed for at-risks children in the urban schools of America, Terrell realizes that the problems that exist in inner-city schools also exist in suburban schools, and LFA has taken their programs and motivational speaking events to affluent schools as well.
Terrell says, “The response (from affluent children) is generally the same (as those from less affluent children). I will say that youth from affluent backgrounds tend to have access to more tools to make a change in their communities. However, you will be surprised to see the ideas that young people who have relatively nothing come up with.”
Although LFA has made an immediate impact, Terrell says that there are many more goals the organization would like to accomplish.
“LFA’s short term goal is to create a more positive atmosphere in Baltimore and D.C. inner-city schools, one by one, by teaching them how to resolve conflict in a positive way,” says Terrell. “Another goal of ours is to assist in President (Barack) Obama’s agenda to increase the amount of members in programs such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, City Year, etc. by actively encouraging our youth to commit to a lifetime of community service.”
Terrell adds that long term, he would like to see conflict resolution programs like LFA consistently decrease the number of students in detention by 25 percent, which would increase the time they spent in classrooms and improve their scholastic performance.
Terrell emphasized that conflict resolution programs should not be specifically dedicated to certain ethnic groups because it leads to ineffective service when one falsely believes that they cannot reach youth if they do not look like them.
“If you walk in the door handicapping yourself by (saying) you can’t help them because you look different than they do, then it will be more difficult. I encourage my facilitators to remember that we are all diverse in our own way so we all can find a common ground in order to connect with one another.”
And it is that common ground that has helped conflict resolution programs like LFA teach children the importance of education and importance of maintaining a peaceful environment in classrooms and communities around the nation’s capitol. With that connection, Terrell is determined to develop the next generation of American leaders despite the grim news America consistently hears about today’s youth.
Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.