This EBF-sponsored workshop took place on March 14th at Seattle University and featured Jim Hernandez of the Concord, CA Police and Stephanie Barrington, M.S., teacher and counselor of the Mt. Diablo, CA School District. The pair offered their personal insights and experiences in working with gangs and violence-prone youth and also in creating a school/community setting where violence is out and a cooperative, positive life style is in.

The all-day Saturday audience consisted of Western Washington-area educators, counselors, and administrators along with law-enforcement personnel and therapists in private practice. Many of these professionals already had been dealing with gangs; others sensed that this ordeal was about to overtake them. They had many questions.

How do you talk to gang members? What do you say when anger has already flared and the time to side-step violent reaction is short? What prior background information and standards need to be communicated to young people (as well as parents, teachers and police) that can be called upon in times of stress? And how do you model positive behavior in ways that resonate-that are seen as possible and realistic?

Jim and Stephanie took turns in describing their approach, emphasizing the importance of modeling behavior that enhances social well-being, especially consideration of others and building self-esteem in the school setting. These behaviors then become the basis for negotiation and cooperation in times of stress. They also stressed the importance of including the larger community in their program, including schools and the police.

In the morning session, they put the problem in perspective, focusing on symptoms and causes of violence and why it is proliferating in all parts of the country-cities and suburbs alike. They also talked about the toll it takes on individuals, families and communities. The afternoon session focused on what can be done, not just in schools but in the community at large.

Their life skills themes of self-esteem, courtesy, cooperation, and support of others, laced with generously voiced approbation of individual acts of kindness or improvement, however slight, are repeated from grade to grade and classroom to classroom. The school creates a "family" environment where it is safe to be and to learn.

As a result, students transferring into the system from other schools readily "catch on" and become accepting of the philosophical basis-they even remind each other. In the higher grades, the "training" is augmented by mentoring skills, conflict resolution, anger management, and individual and group counseling. In field trips outside of school, Jim uses himself to model "peace;" they represent Gang "violence." He uses parables to explain the rivalries that lead to violence; takes them places and engages them in positive interaction rather than confrontive violence.

Their program as been so successful in helping to reduce violence in the East Bay area of California-even to bringing about the disbanding of some gangs-that Jim and Stephanie will now export their methods to school districts outside of California.

Thus Seattle was a first. And since our March Workshop, a late summer weekend conference for central Washington is in the offing. It will feature Jim, Stephanie and two law enforcement professionals. Workshops in other areas of the state are also likely, with the EBF serving as facilitator. (Feel free to contact us for more information.

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Laughing at Death

Becker “too dark?” He said laughter reflects a very advanced stage of faith and grace. See Neil’s "Laughing at Death: The evolution of humor to disarm fundamentalism.”

Download a .pdf version of Neil's essay here.