Hartford Students To Get Training In Finding Nonviolent Solutions
By JENNA CARLESSO
July 13, 2012
HARTFORD — — Over the last 18 years, Warren Hardy Jr. has evolved from a gang member who picked street fights and moved drugs to a mentor for city kids struggling with the same issues.
The 39-year-old recalls two key turning points that helped shape his transformation: the years he spent behind bars at Enfield Correctional and the weeks he spent learning how to solve problems without violence.
Although he left behind his life of crime when paroled in 2000 — after serving six years for possession with intent to sell — it wasn't until 2009, while completing a training course in nonviolence, that Hardy saw real alternatives to what he had learned on the streets.
"The training taught me that, in the middle of a confrontation, instead of getting mad at the person I need to figure out what the actual problem is that's causing the conflict and then work toward a solution," said Hardy, a Hartford native who mentors children as a peace builder for the city-based nonprofit Compass Youth Collaborative.
"You would be amazed to see the look on people's faces when you start having dialogue as to what the problem is. You know, we don't both have to agree on an issue, but we can agree it's not the person [you're mad at], it's the problem."
Later this month, 25 students from the Hartford Public School District will learn the same principles during a three-week training course at Weaver High School's Culinary Arts Center. The program, organized by the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence, teaches kids to diffuse potentially violent situations before they escalate.
The training — formally known as Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation — is steeped in the teachings and philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr. The students are taught nonviolence through lectures, films, music, role playing and historical reenactment of critical events, like the Birmingham Campaign and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, both key parts of the Civil Rights Movement.
It will run six hours a day from July 23 to Aug. 10.
"It explores conflict as a normal, natural part of everyday life," said Victoria Christgau, founder of the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence. "Rather than emotionally respond, they're going to analyze conflict and consider ways in which they could shift what could be a volatile situation into one of reconciliation. It's about how we respond to conflict: whether it escalates or deescalates."
The students picked to participate all have a parent or close relative who is, or has been, incarcerated.
"There is a strong need to support children of incarcerated parents so they don't fall victim to challenges in their communities," Christgau said.
James Lane, a pastor at the North End Church of Christ who completed the nonviolence program, said violence is a learned behavior that can start in the home.
"You always try to break potential cycles in young people's lives. Abusers normally become abusers themselves," he said. "How people react to conflict — that's also passed down from generation to generation. I think it's wise to put this particular cadre of young folks in a setting where you can try to infuse a different way of thinking in their lives."
Lane said the earlier that children are taught to manage conflict, the better. He said the upcoming Weaver High School program, which includes kids ages 15 to 17, is a good start.
"If you wait, it's pulling bodies out of the river rather than finding out what's happening to these kids in the first place," Lane said.
"It becomes kind of like a generational thing," said Hardy, who will speak to kids during the Weaver training program. "If you don't catch those who have certain family members locked up, you develop a domino effect wherein our young people come out with an animosity toward authority.
"If a dad gets locked up for selling drugs and that drug money was used to put food on the table, the kid gets mad about that. Our goal is to educate these young people so they don't have that animosity toward authority, because it won't help to think about doing things that could have them in that same situation," he said.
Andrew Clark, director of the Institute for Municipal & Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University, said his organization is contributing $19,000 to the program because he and others believe it will have a lasting effect. The entire program costs about $35,000, Christgau said, and was funded through the grant from IMRP and donations from other groups and individuals.
"They seem to have a real good understanding of the population and the challenges and strengths these kids bring to the table," Clark said.
If successful, aspects of the program could be integrated into the high school's curriculum, said Matt Conway, principal of the Culinary Arts Center at Weaver High School.
The program is coming to Weaver at a good time, he said, noting a recent spate of shootings across the city. Eleven people were shot — two fatally — in a weekend of heavy gun violence in June.
"We felt this was appropriate, given the environment that the kids live in," Conway said. "You do have things that spill from the streets into the schools. This will provide steps students can take to help ensure that doesn't happen."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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