Peace 4 Patterson was created two years ago at Patterson High School stemming from a desire to improve the reputation of the high school while eliminating youth violence. The organization connects students to the community. They work with local groups and businesses to gather insight into the causes and solutions of violence.
This week, the group celebrated Youth Violence Prevention Week by holding daily events that announced their cause and urged more people to join. These events included a march throughout the school during which they discussed their mission with classmates. Students were urged to sign a pledge on doing their duty to stop violence and then post it on the school’s main sign.
“Regardless of what issues they face, regardless of what they go through, we are here for one cause, which is to make a peaceful environment so students can learn effectively,” said Shanelle England. England, the community school organizer who leads Peace 4 Patterson, draws on her own experience as a single mother to guide her lessons.
The first year, Peace 4 Patterson had approximately 20 members, expanding to 40 this year. England says that through the work they did this week, the group has recruited 100 students. The new recruits were welcomed with an orientation on Friday.
“We want to teach our young leaders how to deal with each other socially, so we can be a powerful force for each other and not against each other,” England said.
The organization met on Thursday, March 26th, with a group of residents at Our Lady of Fatima 2, a senior housing community across the street from the school. The location of this center was highly debated by critics who thought it was unsafe to house older residents near a school with such a negative reputation.
Peace 4 Patterson hopes to combat this stereotype as well, allowing a free-flow of information from students to the elders and connecting two worlds that would otherwise be isolated from each other.
The storytelling session started with England asking the seniors about violence during their youths and then having the students compare it to what they experience now.
The residents of Lady Fatima 2 recalled experiences where they faced prejudices in their youth, but expressed they had never really experienced violence on a large scale. This was in contrast to the student’s personal stories of violence that highlighted the need for change.
“We used to be able to leave our doors unlocked at night and sleep peacefully. Nobody would ever come in or steal anything. You could never do that now,” said Evelyn Hemmeter.
This shifted the conversation to the cause of violence and why things have changed so drastically in Baltimore City. The general consensus was that violence was born out of personal issues that young people struggle with at home. The seniors said that a lack of strong family structure and an increasing dependence upon technology and media teaches children how to handle situations in harmful ways.
For Patterson High specifically, the issue was a lack of school spirit which separates students not only from a proper learning environment, but from the community as a whole. This is why England encourages her students, who she refers to as “her babies”, to reach out and participate in eliminating the stigma of Patterson High.
Another aspect that will rev up student’s enthusiasm is allowing the students to become more involved with how the school runs and getting them to work closely with those who make the decisions that affect them, like the hiring of teachers.
Patterson High senior, Shelai Davis, tells a story of when she first visited the school and was greeted negatively.
“I was scared to come at first,” she said. But despite this, she enrolled at Patterson. Since finding Patterson 4 Peace, she has worked with the group and England to enact meaningful change so no one else would have to experience what she did on her first day.
“I love Patterson 4 Peace. Everything I do, everything I’m trying to fix, is for the students because a lot of these students are misunderstood. People look at them as a bad child and that’s not what it is. There’s a lot of students in there that are misunderstood, that don’t really have that family structure. Staff is mean to students because they don’t take the time to understand them,” said Davis, referencing how P4P creates a family unit that she never had growing up.
Throughout the meeting, everybody, young and old, stressed that the key to end violence is by understanding those who enact it.
“Never judge a person by how you see them at school because you don’t know what is going on, you have go to school and not be distracted by what other people may or may not be doing, because they might not be mugging you or they might not be mean or might not be bad, but it’s whatever happens to them at home is what they bring to school. Be nice to the person next to you,” said Renita Burns, a coordinator at Lady Fatima.
Watching the way the students and the elders interacted and the open and honest dialogue they created proved the idea of opening one’s mind to others thoughts and respecting each other really works.
“You should treat people the way you want them to treat you. You have to just forget the gossip and everything else, treat people with respect, that’s all,” said Patricia Stewart as final advice for the students.
by GIANNA DECARLO EDITOR@BALTIMOREGUIDE.COM