'Be kind to one another'

'Breaking the Cycle speakers plead for understanding, kindness and forgiveness at C.J. Hooker assembly

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  • Superintendent of Schools Daniel T. Connor; speakers Charles Williams, Ann Marie D’Aliso, Hashim Garrett; Sheriff Carl DuBois; Town of Goshen Supervisor Doug Bloomfield; Rachel R. Wilson, Director of the Orange County Youth Bureau; and Henry Freedman, Interim principal at Scotchtown Elementary School (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • Speaker Hashim Garrett (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • The attentive audience at "Breaking the Cycle" (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

'Mind blowing and amazing'

Some members of the student government council shared their reactions to The Chronicle:
Kalil Thomas: “Well, it was kind of like heart-breaking because all these people either lost something for themselves or for their family because of this horrible subject and it also taught them how to forgive people.”
Nawall Khan: “I feel happy for the people who were able to come out and tell how they feel about what happened to them and the people who were related to them...and I feel proud of them and that they forgave them for something so strong. This happens every day and we don’t know how it feels.”
Laura Aglione: “I now will notice more when people are not doing well or aren’t feeling well and I will be able to tell them what they said here — to forgive whoever has hurt them.”
Madilyn Bunzey: The most important message “is to forgive anyone who causes anyone pain and to really notice people around me –as suicide prevention as Ms. Ann Marie said — how we need to recognize the signs and ask people if they’re doing okay. “
Armando Soto, 13, one of the audience members: “I found it amazing how everybody was just able to come up here and just kind of come through all that and still kind of be here and just talk about it. It’s just all mind-blowing and amazing,”

By Ginny Privitar

— Hashim Garrett, a slight figure whose paralyzed legs are encased in braces under his clothing, was the first guest speaker at a special assembly held at C.J. Hooker Middle School on Monday. He used a long metal forearm crutches to move.

The crowd of hundreds watched, riveted, as Garrett, seated, stuck one fully extended leg out in front of his chair and then hoisted himself to a standing position with the aid of his crutches.

Garrett then proceeded to tell his story: by the sixth grade, as a boy in Brooklyn, he was hanging around with the wrong crowd, despite his mother’s warning. He was also being bullied at school and decided to “protect” himself and “be cool,” he said, “by hanging out with the kids who were bad.”

By eighth grade he was a gang member. One day, when he was 15, the same gang members he called his friends decided to kill him. They set a trap and called him out of his house. Minutes later he was shot six times and lay paralyzed from the waist down on the sidewalk.

He recalled his mother’s warning about that crowd. On his way to the hospital, he could feel his life slipping away. He could hear his mother's voice, and it brought him back.

In the hospital, he said, “All I could think about was revenge.”

But after a time, he realized that impulse was actually eating at him. The anger was destroying him emotionally and, as part of his healing, he came to forgive his shooter.

“I forgave him so that I could have a better life,” he said.

He said his story is “about hope, love and forgiveness,” and urged students to forgive those who have treated them badly so that they can move on with their life.

“I need you to find it in your heart to forgive and love those kids who make fun of you or don’t accept you at the lunchroom table," he said.

Love and hate cannot exist in the same place, he said, and love is more powerful than hate. He told the students to pick their friends carefully, “because what your friends do, can affect you.”

He turned his life around and today is a motivational speaker, one of three who addressed students, teachers, and local dignitaries in an assembly program known as “Breaking the Cycle,” which returned to C.J. Hooker Middle School after three years.

The program was started after the Columbine massacre in an attempt to stop the cycle of bullying and ostracism that impels young people to turn on others or themselves, and to break the cycle of violence, verbal or physical, through forgiveness. Close to a million people have seen the program, more than 100,000 students at different schools in the last year alone.

The C.J. Hooker stage was filled with large banners, each one displaying a picture of someone whose life exemplified the values the speakers espoused.

Principal William Rolan introduced the speakers.

Mother doesn't see tragedy coming

Next to speak was Ann Marie D’Aliso, whose son Patrick took his own life, at age 16, in 2004. She was filled with guilt that she hadn’t seen the signs. Patrick was acting out in many ways, yet was a good student, a handsome young man and athlete who had friends. Apparently Patrick had also reached out — asking indirectly for help from two friends, telling one that she wouldn’t see him again. The two friends discussed the things Patrick had told them, but neither thought to tell anyone in authority, someone who could have done something. That day Patrick hung himself.

D’Aliso speaks to students to prevent other needless deaths. She calls suicide a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

After Patrick’s death, D’Aliso received a letter from a student who wasn’t the most popular girl in school.

“I dropped my books in the hallway and (Patrick) bent down and helped me pick them up and when I went to the lunchroom that day, he motioned for me to sit with him," the girl wrote. "He changed my life that day because he accepted me for who I was.”

"You have a gift to change the path someone takes," D’Aliso told the students. "Be kind to one another.

She speaks at these events to honor her son and bring something positive out of the tragedy. According to her co-presenters, she has saved lives at least half a dozen times. Students have come to her in tears after her presentationa, to tell her they had a plan to kill themselves but were dissuaded after hearing her speak.

A deathbed reconciliation
Last to speak was Charles Williams, former police chief of Cornwall-on-Hudson.

“I was the kid in the fourth grade who got picked on,” he said.

He had neglected his grooming and hygiene. He suffered from low self-esteem and was filled with anger toward his alcoholic mother, who ignored him. He would avoid eye contact with others.

He grew out of his slovenly habits but continued to be hate his mother, long into his adult life. Finally he decided to forgive her. He went to her house and told her this. She had no response.

A few months later, he was called to her bedside as she lay dying. She neither spoke nor moved nor opened her eyes. He sat there holding her hand and sobbed for what his life and hers had been. Then he felt her finger stroke the back of his hand.

“My mother was comforting me,” he said. “She loved me.”

He spoke about the power of positive forgiveness and how it changed his life. If another kid looks like they’re having a hard time, go over and ask them if they’re okay, he urged. Sit and talk with them at the lunch table. Be kind to one another.

Many in the audience were deeply moved by the speakers’ stories. The speakers were greeted with vigorous applause, and many in the audience went up to talk with them after the program.

For more information visit breaking thecycle.com; email: info@breakingthecycle.com; or call 845-339-6680 and ask for Ian Winter.

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