Peace Education Workshops Help Families

by Chris Bavender

A simple question at a recent Peace Education Multi-Family Workshop at Indianapolis Public School 43 drew a jaw-dropping answer from a child. “What do you think can cause bad communication and misunderstanding in a family?” The answer, from a 7-year-old, was “Silent thoughts.”

“All of the adults were like, ‘Whoa,’” Naeemah Jackson, family programs director for the Peace Learning Center and moderator of the family workshops, said. “So we proceeded to peel that back and talk about what silent thoughts are and what can they do. Communication in a family is where a lot of things break down and pose challenges.”

The workshop was one of six held at the end of the 2015–16 school year at School 43, 150 W. 40th St. Funds for the workshops came from community partners including Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association, North United Methodist Church, Fairview Presbyterian Church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Traders Point Community Church, J & K Beck (Riviera Club), and First Friends of Indianapolis.

Agnes Shelton, parent involvement educator at School 43, reached out to the community because she believed the workshops were needed and there wasn’t money for them in the school budget. “First Friends of Indianapolis had proposed working with Peace Learning Center after a series of homicides in our community. One in particular affected our entire school in September 2015—the shooting death of 10-year-old DeShaun Swanson, a former School 43 student,” Shelton said. “Our focus is on strengthening the families. Due to systems and processes that are institutionalized, many of our families are marginalized and feel it. As a result, many have not been able to cultivate coping mechanisms to deal with the daily pressures of life. As a result, many simply react to situations, versus being proactive. Many of our students model this type of behavior.”

THINGS BEGIN AT HOME

Based on the success of the first workshops, more are scheduled for this academic year. Jackson hopes to reach 85 families. “There is no lecture,” she emphasized. Children and adults talk and participate. They come to an understanding of why something was done that harmed someone, and they can tell their stories and come to reconciliation and resolution,” she said. “Everyone acknowledges that things begin at home—not at school or at church or on the streets but at home. When people in a family can understand who they are to themselves and to each other, can communicate in a clear, honest way, and can talk about things that are serious, such as conflict, crime, and pain, then that makes for better family dynamics.”

naeemah-jackson
Naeemah Jackson helps families learn to show each other love and respect. Photo courtesy of Peace Learning Center.

Jackson has been facilitating the workshops through the Peace Learning Center for four years. They were born out of need she saw “because everything begins at home.” There are three approaches: multi-family groups, one-on-one meetings in the home, and peaceful parenting workshops. “This is a valuable asset to any and all families,” she said, “whether they are dealing with very serious issues that can negatively affect children and their behavior in school or society at large, or are simply ready to strengthen their family bonds by participating in the program. But for children to come in to do this on a Saturday makes it obvious they really want to learn and put new tools in their toolbox for their family’s well-being.”

Jackson believes every family can benefit from better communication. “I work with families on all economic levels. Even parents who are professionals have issues at home. Too many families, regardless of economic and social class, are being worn down by technology,” she said. “You go into someone’s home and everyone in the family is on a cellphone or laptop or tablet. I know we are not in the “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best” era—those times are gone—but we have to battle technology just to talk to one another. All of our children are at risk because society is such that you can ‘invite’ predators into your home through digital devices.”

The key challenge she sees in families of lower economic means is the same as in middle and upper-middle class families: communication. “Do you know me? Do you see me? Do you hear me?” Jackson says these are some of the questions discussed in the workshops. “One of my favorite parts is when they discover what they think of each other and what they see in each other,” Jackson said. “There was one woman who has nine kids and eight grandkids—a big, loving family. One son is 21, and as he was describing his mom, he said to her, ‘You don’t know, but when you smile it’s like a sunny Sunday morning to me.’ She started crying because it knocked her back. If anyone thinks that didn’t improve their relationship . . .”

LOVE AND BE LOVED

The workshops prompt varying degrees of seriousness and intensity among families, Jackson said, with many other memorable conversations. “I remember one young girl who had been in foster homes, bouncing back and forth. Her mom was in jail. Her dad was in jail. She was 15 and smart—a straight-A student—but had been exposed to domestic violence and drug abuse,” Jackson said. “She said, ‘Miss Jackson, I don’t know how to love or how to be loved.”

With more Saturday workshops planned for this academic year, School 43’s Shelton is excited to see what can be accomplished. She has already seen a change in the families who participated in the first programs. “I saw it in particular with some of the kids who have special needs—some of them have sort of simmered down,” she said. “I remind them, ‘Hey, remember we talked about this. When you love someone, how do you show love and respect?’”

Jackson has been working with School 43’s new principal, Bakari Posey, to get this year’s workshops scheduled. “Mr. Posey has been very helpful and involved in how we are going to facilitate this,” Jackson said. “And Ms. Shelton is just wonderful. She is so proactive. She goes above and beyond.”

Shelton firmly believes the workshops can only help. “In order to engage with anyone else, all parties must be willing to share and discuss value systems,” she said. “What values are instilled in our students when they come to us? This will affect how students learn, how I will interact with their parents, and how all stakeholders will need to cooperate to meet all of the challenges at School 43.”

Chris Bavender is a freelance writer in SoBro with more than 20 years’ experience as a print and broadcast journalist. Follower her on Twitter @crbavender and Instagram @chris_bavender.

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