“I’m a dominating bully” — how often do you hear sentences like that? For that matter, how often do you hear the voices of teens, no matter what they are saying, at conferences aimed at dealing with issues involving young people?
The involvement of high school students as presenters at the sixth annual Restorative Justice Conference at the Marquette Alumni Memorial Union Tuesday was one of the reasons the day-long event, attended by a capacity crowd of about 350, was a success. The conference was sponsored by the Marquette Law School Restorative Justice Initiative.
Three students from Milwaukee’s Custer High School, two girls and a boy, didn’t offer research evidence or a PowerPoint presentation. They just described incidents they have been involved in as bullies and as victims, gave their thoughts on why students act the way they do — and held the rapt attention of the audience.
All three are part of the Violence Free Zone project at Custer, run by Running Rebels, a local organization that aims to direct teens away from violent behavior.
“I feel people are bullies because they have nothing better to do,” said Kenyonna Glass, an eleventh grader. Shanique Harvey, a senior, said kids act like bullies because they think it helps get them in with the popular crowd. Lavonte King, a freshman, said he had been both a bully and a victim. “When I get bullied, I usually go bully someone else, take my anger out on someone else,” he said.
Asked by moderator India McCanse, executive director of Literacy Services of Wisconsin, what advice they would have for parents who want to reduce the chance of their children being either bullies or victims, Shanique said, “I would have to tell a parent to get more involved.” She suggested parents take some days off work and spend the time with their children.
But Kenyonna said, “Depends on who the parents are.” For many children, the problems of their parents are a major source of their own problems, she said. At another point, she said that often, “The person who is doing the bullying is probably going through things at home.”
Lavonte said he didn’t feel he could talk to anyone in his family about problems he is having with bullying. He said sometimes he talks to his younger brother. The brother doesn’t understand, he said, but it helps Lavonte to talk to him.
Shanique said if adults in the family can’t help, there are other adults. “Every child has someone they can look up to,” she said. She said high school life is hard for many teens, adding, “They have so many opportunities, and they don’t know they have them.”
In the keynote speech of the conference, Brenda Morrison, co-director of the Centre for Restorative Justice and an assistant professor in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, outlined the attributes of approaches that lead to justice being done with people and not to people, as she put it.
Restorative justice efforts that aim to solve problems, heal wounds and direct those who have caused problems onto better paths are underway at many Milwaukee schools and in some criminal justice settings in Milwaukee. Morrison said, “Milwaukee, you have a lot to be proud of.” She said people elsewhere should learn from Milwaukee how to develop a comprehensive citywide strategy for restorative justice. She singled out for praise Justice Janine P. Geske, a distinguished professor on the law school faculty and head of the school’s initiative.
Morrison offered the three R’s of a restorative justice program – respect for the person, responsibility for behavior, and repair for harm done . She said, “We have to be willing to get involved in each other’s lives and stand up against behavior such as bullying.” As for lawyers, she said, “There are lots of really good lawyers doing amazing work within a system that needs to move to the next level of justice.”
The conference concluded with presentation of Starfish Awards to eight Milwaukeeans for their contributions to the community. They are: