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Resolving conflict without violence:

Two schools get lessons from experience

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 13, 2019) -- Three people. Three experiences of unthinkable personal loss and suffering. Three stories about forgiveness.

 

Students at Tony Clement Center for Education and Edmund J. O’Neal Middle School of Excellence heard Tuesday from a man paralyzed by a gang-related shooting at age 15, a mother whose son committed suicide at age 16 and the sister of a man who died of a drug overdose at age 24.

 

Their message: Forgive the unforgivable.

 

The City School District of Albany’s Office of Pupil Personnel Services brought in the three speakers through Breaking the Cycle, a non-profit focused on resolving conflict through non-violence and forgiveness.

 

“Breaking the Cycle is about letting go of the anger and hatred that eats you up inside,” Ian Winter, a co-founder of the group, told students.

 

Each speaker described, in unvarnished detail, their stories to a mostly spellbound audience at both schools. They urged students to speak up about their own pain and speak out against injustice against others. And students had the chance to ask the speakers about their struggles and their decisions.

 

Here is each speaker’s story, in brief.

 

ANN MARIE D’ALISO’s son Patrick hung himself when he was 16 years old. She described getting the news from the police and seeing her beloved and popular child in a body bag.

 

She berated herself and her husband for missing the signs that Patrick was spiraling out of control. She didn’t understand why his friends didn’t know. As devastated as she was, she was angry with her son.

 

“When you lose a child, you’re broken. You’ll never be the same. The only way I can get through this tragedy is to maybe help someone else,” she said.

 

Sharing her story with others helped her forgive herself, she said. She also urged students to be kind to each other and speak out if something is wrong.

 

“You have the opportunity today to make wise decisions,” she said to the students. “I hope your path is a good one.”

 

RANDI KELLER’s brother Ryan died of a heroin overdose when he was 24. She asked her audience how many had lost someone they love. Virtually every hand raised.

 

“I lost my brother in 2015, but really, I lost him way before that,” she said.

 

Randi also struggled with substance abuse. After an injury curtailed a promising future in gymnastics, she started getting in trouble. She was arrested in ninth grade and tenth grade. She was kicked out of the only prom she ever attended for being drunk.

 

Ryan, on the other hand, was a straight-A student. But he never felt like he fit in or had friends. Both turned to alcohol and drugs in middle school. Kelli lost a swimming scholarship to college because she didn’t clean up her act after failing a drug test. Ryan dropped out after 3 years, a full-blown opioid addict.

 

Ryan came to visit her in 2015 after a 10-month stint in rehab, and told her over the phone later that he heard a voice telling him all his problems would go away if he used a needle. Shortly after, their dad found Ryan dead, surrounded by drug paraphernalia. She was angry at herself and her brother, and it wasn’t until she attended a Breaking the Cycle assembly in 2016 that she realized she needed to forgive.

 

“No matter what you are going through in your life, you control you. If you make the decision to move forward and forgive, you can become anything you want to be,” she said.

 

HASHIM GARRETT was a book-smart kid who was bullied for his brains until he became a gun-toting gangbanger. He was shot point-blank with a submachine gun while selling drugs near his Brooklyn home. It was twilight on a May evening, and he was 15.

 

Six entry wounds and six exit wounds tore through him, almost killing him. He recalled an out-of-body experience he had in the ambulance transporting to him to the hospital as an EMT worked frantically to stabilize him. The thing that tethered him to the world of the living? His mother yelling at him to not die.

 

Later, paralyzed in his hospital bed, he contemplated suicide. He also contemplated getting revenge on the shooter. He refused to identify the 16-year-old shooter to police, though. (He subsequently learned the shooter was released and shot someone else.)

 

“I thought about how I was going to kill this person. The only thing that gave me comfort was thinking about how I would hurt this kid,” Garrett said.

 

Forgiveness wasn’t the culture of his neighborhood, he said. Violence was. And it wasn’t until he was recovering from his injuries that his mother saw his struggle, handed him a bible and encouraged him to read it.

 

“I started to think, ‘This is a second chance for you. This is not a punishment. This is an opportunity to right a wrong. This is an opportunity to take charge of your life,” he said.

 

Every student at each assembly received a copy of Breaking the Cycle's book "Why Forgive?" The book features stories of people who who overcame painful experiences and situations.

 

The mission of the City School District of Albany is to educate and prepare all students for college and career, citizenship and life, in partnership with our diverse community. The district serves approximately 9,500 students in 18 elementary, middle and high schools. In addition to neighborhood schools, the district includes several magnet schools and programs, as well as other innovative academic opportunities for students, including four themed academies at Albany High School.

         
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