Rockwall, Texas: Applying learning to ‘real world events’
The week before Parkland, this group had already started conversations on crucial topics
The junior youth group Naomi de la Torre facilitates does “a lot of work on relating themes from the Baha’i writings to current events in the world.”
“The junior youth really enjoy having discussion where they work to apply their learning to real world events,” she says.
Just the week before, the group had viewed a “very powerful” talk featuring a woman who had grown up in a hate group. The woman said she eventually recognized the unity of humankind and wanted others to try to “work to become better listeners and more accepting of others so that we don’t allow the issues that polarize us in this nation to continue to divide us even more.”
As they watched the video, De la Torre asked group members to keep in mind any preconceived notions that prevent them from connecting with people who are different.
Afterward, she says, “They were very vocal in describing how they had felt both hurt by these types of scenarios but also had probably engaged in this type of prejudice themselves.
“We had a deep conversation about how we all want to belong to something and feel included, but not at the cost of excluding others.”
“Truly hearing each other”
The group members then listed topics “that we all might have strong opinions about,” recalls de la Torre.
Topics included gun laws, smoking, religion, gender stereotypes, abortion, gay marriage, racism, and birth control. “It was clear that we had participants that had very strong feelings about all of these topics and with quite differing viewpoints,” says de la Torre.
So the young people decided to break into small groups “with the intention of truly hearing each other and not making assumptions about someone who believes differently than ourselves.”
The topics of gun laws/school violence and gender stereotypes were selected, and a set of guidelines suggested by the video speaker was adopted for the conversations:
- Don’t assume bad intent.
- Ask questions.
- Stay calm.
- Make the argument.
Coming back together, the gender stereotypes group performed a skit. The junior youths often use theatrical techniques that allow a facilitator and actors to explore issues.
A “beautiful sight to see”
The group on gun laws and school violence group opted instead to present in a roundtable format.
“I think it was the very first time I’d ever witnessed so much respect, humility and open-mindedness with such a polarizing issue,” says de la Torre. “It was a beautiful sight to see.”
Weeks later, in the wake of Parkland, the Rockwall junior youths revisited the school safety issue.
“We talked about students’ reaction all around the country to the recent school shootings with school walkouts and other nonviolent demonstrations,” she recalls.
“We discussed what we can do as a group of young people who care about making the world a better place. What solutions can we discover in our conversation?”
Examining the question of whether human beings are naturally violent, says de la Torre, the junior youths “talked about how humans have a dual nature and how we have twin tendencies for both peace and violence.” Some turned to poetry to express their take.
“We’ve been covering this topic — dual nature of man — in depth recently and we talked about it in relation to violence and how it is really our choice, both individually and as a society, whether we go with our lower or higher nature when dealing with problems, especially violent ones.”
Selections from the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of the Baha’i Faith’s founder, and from religious scripture framed the conversation, especially in regard to “what we should do with our violent impulses,” says de la Torre.
SOLUTIONS IN VERSE
A poetry-writing exercise — choosing from words Naomi de la Torre had written on index cards — further drew out the thoughts of members of a junior youth group in Rockwall, Texas, about solutions to school and other violence.
From Ariana Parker:
Are we safe?
Guns, more guns, violent death, silence
We want hope, broken home, we need friends, children gone
We say, “I’m safe” and “It won’t happen to me”
But death affects us all
There is no escaping
What we need is hope, help, unity, safety and
We need to save our children, our homes, our towns, cities and people
We need to save our world form the
Dark pit of no return
We need change
And we will be the change
From Xena Tanha:
Are you safe?
We need change in order to feel safe
Change is action
Action is NOT words
Action is NOT more guns
Action is social justice
Action is powerful
Action is change
From Dino de la Torre:
Guns and screaming and crying…
Families, loss, students
Tearful eyes of sorrow and grief…
Guns and screaming and crying…
Why is the voice of mental sickness so strong
The voice of mental health is stronger
But is it…
We need thoughts and prayers…
Confusion and silence…
Change of our future
Love, life, unity