The picture of two rows of teenage girls in black sweatshirts rolling a casket out of a crowded gymnasium was compelling. Yes, J.P., Joe and Jelly, a picture is worth a thousand words. But this time, the words weren’t accurate.
I assumed that this was the funeral of another young person killed by some senseless or stupid act by another teenager who was going to spend his or her most productive years behind bars learning how to become a master criminal. It’s sad to say, but I’ve grown numb to such stories. I can’t read or hear about another.
Oh, I still wonder about the mother left behind. I cry if either the victim or the assailant has minor children, and I’m perplexed as to why gun violence has become routine, even in schools and churches.
It’s not unusual to wake up and hear that somebody not even old enough for a driver’s license was killed overnight. My husband, who works at a local hospital, listens to see what might greet him as he arrives for another day’s work.
In one day, the headlines on this newspaper’s website included:
- “Greensboro woman arrested at 14 admits to her part in death of 74-year-old man.”
- “Two Winston-Salem brothers indicted for murder of 16-year-old girl.”
- “Two injured by gunshots on Ogden Street.”
- “22-year-old dies in shooting early Sunday morning, two others injured.”
That’s just one day. Before noon.
After being shaken from my mind’s journey through this ball of confusion we are living through, I read the headline to the Washington Post story, “A mock funeral aims to help students bury their pain.”
What the ... ?
And just what idiot thought this was a good idea?
According to the story, Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta held the funeral — including a casket, minister, flowers and a receiving line — in mid-March with the intent of helping students “bury” the things in the way of their academic success.
They wanted the students to “confront their rawest emotions, even if painful.”
Before the funeral, students were asked in their classes to write what they wanted to entomb. During the funeral, the casket was opened and the students marched by and dropped their notes in the velvet-lined box.
Some of the notes read: “My mom said your grandma should have left you (where) you was at, which means should of left me and my two sisters in foster care.” Or, “RIP Uncle Tim. RIP Big Brother. RIP Mommy. RIP twin sis. RIP Grandpa.” And the chilling, “I hate the feeling that people give me that they are gonna kill me. And ever since my cousin got killed it haven’t been the same. I been waiting to fight. And I just want to kill.”
Students also said they felt this was a safe space to release their burdens.
Frederick Douglass, surrounded by poverty and where only 9% passed state proficiency exams in English and 2% in math, isn’t the only school that’s tried holding a mock funeral. It’s part of a concept known as social and emotional learning (SEL) built on five principles: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.
According the website from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, a 2011 analysis of 213 studies involving 270,000 students showed that SEL participants posted an 11% gain in academic achievement, a reduction in behavioral problems, including decreased dropout rates, drug use, teen pregnancy, mental health problems and criminal behavior, and that for every $1 spent on the program there was an $11 return.
The Collaborative isn’t suggesting that schools schedule mock funerals, but this is the way Atlanta chose to address the issue. They have no idea yet what impact this has had on those students because they haven’t done the follow-through for a number of reasons.
This practice reminds me of the “Scared Straight” programs that used to take those young people who’d already had some run-ins with law enforcement to prisons, including death row, with the hope of scaring them from their continued behavior.
The National Institute of Justice found that “Scared Straight” participants had higher recidivism rates and that, in fact, the visits increased their odds of doing additional crimes.
I don’t know if SEL will work, but we can’t keep burying our children. Bring out the mourners, I say and let’s address this issue from all angles.
“Mother, mother, there’s too many of you crying.
Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying.
You know we’ve got to find a way, to bring some lovin’ here today.”
— Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On”