April 10, 2005
By CHRISTINE DEMPSEY, Courant Staff Writer
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. --
Three Weaver High School students on Saturday gave an audience
at Harvard Divinity School a taste of the adversity they face
during a presentation punctuated by tears.
Sophomores Sasha Riley and
Yordanos Abraham and junior Lloyd Saunders spoke at a conference
called "Young People and
Social Justice: Planting the Seeds for Change." Sixteen
people listened intently as the students from Hartford talked
about the challenges they face in and out of school. This school
year, three of their classmates were shot on their way to or
from school, one fatally. A fourth student was shot in a store
in a different neighborhood.
University of Hartford student
Hannah Sigel, who tutors and mentors the trio through the university's
Educational Main Street program, and the program's director,
Mary Christensen, also spoke at the workshop, called "Social
Justice: Fact or Fiction."
But the highlight was the students, who stood smartly dressed
before tables arranged in the shape of a U. They read from papers
they had prepared in advance.
Wearing a pinstriped pantsuit, Riley, 14, talked about how violence
seeps into the school from the streets. Last year, she said,
there was a stabbing in a school hallway. This year, there were
the shootings nearby. One was a drive-by shooting at a school
bus stop, she said.
Still, Riley said, Weaver
is "a very good school." She
described the teachers and student teachers as caring and helpful,
and said the school's curriculum is "just as good as the
curriculum taught in the suburban schools."
"But Weaver's problem lies in some of the students," she
said. "Some students are so angry that they come to school
to provoke other students. Sometimes, you might come to school
expecting to learn something, and someone might try to pick a
fight with you over something as small as a place in the lunch
The school also has gangs
that "bring street issues inside
of the school." There's homophobia as well, she said. She
said she knows of gay students who have been beaten because of
their sexual orientation.
Riley said students have to push themselves to succeed, but
it's not easy.
"Our parents expect us to excel, but it is so hard when
you live in a place where you see your friends and relatives
killed," she said.
Abraham, 16, said she is trying
to stop the violence. She and a few other students formed a
group called Students Against Violence Emerge, or SAVE. The
group aims to raise awareness about violence and "to try to stop it before it's too late and another
student becomes another victim," she said.
Teachers and administrators have thrown their support behind
the group, she said, but few students have embraced it and some
oppose it. Some don't believe SAVE will do any good, she said.
Posters promoting the new group have been ripped down.
Abraham was moved to act when Lorenzo Morgan Rowe, a relative
of her friends and a Weaver High honor student, was fatally shot
while coming home from a high school basketball game. He was
not the intended target, she said.
"This guy didn't have nothing to do with it. He just got
hit for no reason," she said.
Saunders, 16, said he sees
things at school that disturb him, such as students swearing
at teachers and "a lot of pregnant
girls." He predicted that there would be fewer disruptions
and better grades if parents were more involved and if the school
had more help from such people as Sigel. He called for the city
to become part of the solution.
"The city of Hartford needs to become more involved with
the students, parents and administration," he said. "And
together we can make Weaver High one of the top schools in the
state of Connecticut."
The room broke out in vigorous applause, but before long, there
Kaytie Dowcett, who represents an after-school program in Boston
called Tenacity, asked Saunders how he manages to stay about
"Why are you different?" she
Saunders credited his mother. His voice breaking, he told a
story about how, when he was turning 10, she didn't have a car
and she walked through the rain to buy him a birthday cake. Dowcett
teared up, as did Sigel and at least one other person in the
After the session was over, Christensen said she liked having
the personal testimonials as opposed to a lecture from a program
"I thought their stories were much more poignant," she
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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