Preventing violence from within

Officers talk to teens in Annapolis about peer pressure, self-esteem in workshop

December 09, 2007|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun reporter

Montgomery County police Officer Darryl Marshall challenged a group of teenagers at Stanton Community Center in downtown Annapolis yesterday morning.

"Describe yourself in one word," Marshall said.

"Knowledgeable," one teen yelled out.

"Determined," said another.

About 50 young people and adults gathered for a "Tools 4 Success" workshop - a program sponsored by several Maryland organizations to help teach students how to increase their self-esteem and avoid peer pressure.

The workshop focused on four topics: peer pressure, conflict and problem-solving, self-esteem and gangs.

Officers from several police departments helped run the workshop, which was sponsored by the Maryland Crime Prevention Association, the Maryland Community Crime Prevention Institute and Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

"A lot of times, we all make bad decisions in our lives, but they don't affect the rest of our lives," said Chuck Weikel, a member of the Maryland Crime Prevention Association who helped coordinate the workshop. "We want to teach kids to not make those dramatically wrong decisions."

Officials have produced similar workshops in several other areas, including Harford, Howard, Frederick and Baltimore counties, said Ann Thacker, youth crime prevention specialist for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Thacker said the groups hope to conduct the workshops every four months.

As Marshall spoke to the group of 14- to 18-year-olds about self-esteem, students talked about how they realize the qualities they find in themselves and how following the crowd can lead to bad choices.

"I learned that people need to stop being scared to show who they really are," said Chukeyse Mack, who is 15 and attends Meade High School at Fort Meade. She decided to attend with a group of friends.

"I learned to have more self-esteem," said Apriel Dorsey, 15, of Annapolis High School. Dorsey attended with schoolmates Ryeshia Simms, 14, and Karen Meneses, 15.

"It should help a lot of people," Ryeshia said of the workshop.

In Annapolis, the workshop joins several other anti-violence programs created in the wake of a series of violent crimes involving young people.

A shootout at Westfield Annapolis mall last year, which police attributed to a rivalry between residents of two housing complexes, left two teenagers wounded, along with an off-duty Secret Service agent who intervened.

That incident followed several brawls at Annapolis High School that led to the arrest of nearly 30 students.

Moyer said the city began nonviolence programs in 2002, and has been expanding them ever since.

Weikel said that because the workshop targeted at-risk youth, organizers distributed fliers in housing projects and other communities through Boys and Girls Clubs and other contacts.

"It's been kind of a networking effort," Weikel said. "We wanted to interact with kids in the environment where they have to make these decisions - homes and communities."

But the children weren't the only ones learning at yesterday's program. Tanya Booth took her son, Lovell Alexander, 10, to the workshop.

"It's not where you live at - it's what you want out of life," said Booth, who lives in the College Creek Terrace housing complex in Annapolis.

"I thought that this is one excellent idea, that the parents and the youth get together," she said. "The most valuable thing I learned is being more aggressive with your children at home. You can strengthen your home, which can give better guidance to our youth today."

After Marshall's talk on self-esteem, Tyrell Thompson, 14, of Meade Senior High School, said he was glad he decided to check out the workshop.

"This was pretty good." Tyrell said. "They're trying to keep you from the negative things."

His one-word description of himself?

"Triumphant," he said.

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

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