Resolving conflict without violence:
Two schools get lessons from experience
N.Y. (March 13, 2019) --
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
“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
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
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
“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 3½ 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,”
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
“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
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