Last week, NPR featured a week-long story on steps the City of Chicago has taken to reduce violence among the City’s youth. Many of the ideas the City has employed center around shaping the way young people approach conflicts and how they resolve their disputes. Examples include “CeaseFire” – a community based group that enlists former gang members to mediate street conflicts before they become violent, mentors in the schools to teach young people how to cope and react to conflict without violence, and a “Peace Room” in one local school that meets with kids to help them resolve disputes. The goals of the City’s plan are to create a “Culture of Calm” and to teach kids how to deal with anger and conflict without resorting to violence.
Here in the Birmingham area, a similar program is being piloted in Bessemer. With help from local lawyers, counselors, the Birmingham Volunteer Lawyer Program and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section of the Birmingham Bar Association, mediators have been meeting with kids to help resolve disputes and prevent fights – and have been having success! This program deserves wide community support and I hope it lays the foundation for similar programs in all of our area schools. We can counter the culture of violence and build a strong foundation in our young people if we take the time to lead by example.