While each of us is responsible for his actions, outside elements contribute to the culture of violence that affects African Americans. For example, African American children are bombarded with images of violence, drugs, and poverty. This serves to devalue a race and contributes to issues of self-esteem.
My father, the late John Skief, who founded the charter school I now run, believed that in order to reverse the trend of violence within the African American community, action must first begin within schools at the local level. He believed the first step in reversing the trend of violence is to teach African American children at a very young age their value as individuals.
Key to that goal is to direct students' attention to members of their race who have made great contributions to humanity. This is accomplished by first teaching students their history. By connecting lessons to the greatness of their heritage, students learn from an early age that unlimited success is attainable. And healthy self-esteem reduces the likelihood of bullying and violence.
Another key element is to establish school-specific programs on prevention of violence. Harambee has initiated a student-driven conflict resolution team that is anchored to the idea that children's behavior is heavily influenced by their peers. If student leaders act positively, the rest will likely follow. The program encourages an open atmosphere where children learn to "Stop, think and then act," so that they can respond to tough situations proactively and avoid negative consequences for their actions.
Students who demonstrate good behavior receive positive attention and reinforcement from teachers and peers. Would-be bullies catch on, and begin to produce positive behaviors to get noticed. The program has dramatically reduced incidents of bullying and violence. Moreover, our students are carrying their positive outlooks into their community, neighborhoods, and homes.
School violence can be eliminated. Start with the commission's ideas, but also consider the impact of societal influences and determine methods that should be employed at the local level.
Masai Skief is CEO of the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School.