July | August 2015

Students Pledge To Do the "Write" Thing and Take a Stand Against Violence

OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee with (left to right) student ambassadors Nancy Guandique, Johnnie Baites III, Catalina Quintana, and Justin Bronson. National Campaign to Stop Violence chairman Daniel Q. Callister stands behind the podium.
OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee with (left to right) student ambassadors Nancy Guandique, Johnnie Baites III, Catalina Quintana, and Justin Bronson. National Campaign to Stop Violence chairman Daniel Q. Callister stands behind the podium.

“To reduce the incidents of violence, we must first identify its causes, who’s affected, and what the risk factors are. What has been successful or unsuccessful in the past, and in what other areas? Answering these types of questions will provide the foundation for change, for growth, for a life free of violence.”

These are the words of 13-year-old Johnnie Baites III, a seventh grader from Corpus Christi, TX.

Johnnie shared these recommendations when he recounted his experience with violence at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Johnnie is 1 of 50 middle school students whom OJJDP Administrator Robert L. Listenbee helped welcome—along with their parents and guardians, and several juvenile court justices—to the “Do the Write Thing Challenge” culmination event held at the Supreme Court on July 13, 2015.

The hallmark program of the National Campaign to Stop Violence (NCSV), Do the Write Thing encourages middle school students to engage in discussions about youth violence with their teachers and peers, write about the causes and solutions, and pledge not to participate in violent acts. This year, more than 195,000 students nationwide participated in the classroom discussions, and 65,000 of those students accepted the “challenge” to prepare an essay and pledge nonviolence.

The 2015 winning essayists—referred to as national student ambassadors—represent 23 challenge programs in 17 states. The student ambassadors were invited to Washington, DC, to share their stories and learn about the nation’s capital. During the ceremony, four students, including Johnnie, read their essays in which they described their exposure to violence.

“Because I am Black or African American, and I live in a bad neighborhood, people look at me as a person who will be nothing in life,” wrote Justin Bronson, an eighth grader from Atlanta, GA, whose essay discussed gang activity in his neighborhood. “Though I cannot change my neighborhood, I can try to persuade those around me to do better. [M]y job as a young black man is to be a role model for my peers. I want to continue to ‘do the right thing.’”

In his remarks, Administrator Listenbee shared his experience with violence with the youth and outlined federal efforts—such as the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, the National Mentoring Resource Center, and the funding of family and juvenile drug courts—established to change circumstances for at-risk youth. Mr. Listenbee also emphasized OJJDP’s prioritization of youth and family engagement. “We know that youth and their families need to have a voice if we are to improve outcomes for our young people and their communities,” he said.

Nancy Guandique, an eighth grader from Memphis, TN, spoke about the despair she felt when her friend was killed by a stray bullet as he slept in his bed at night. Catalina Quintana, from El Paso, TX, detailed her experience as a witness to domestic violence. “It breaks my heart to look back at this time in my life. It affects you so much, especially emotionally,” said the eighth grader. “It’s like it’s eating you up alive and you think it’s never going to end.”

Johnnie concluded his essay by challenging himself and everyone around him to take the following pledge: 

  • Be careful of the words you speak—some words are more painful than a punch and as piercing as a knife.
  • Treat friends and family the way you want them to treat you.
  • Love without reason, and love everyone.
  • Help someone else without expecting thanks or reward.
  • Think before you act, before you speak, and before you assume.
  • Learn to walk away. Be the bigger person.
  • Learn to talk and problem solve without violence.
  • Don’t be tempted to use drugs.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help for you or someone else.
  • Smile, you never know who needs to see it.

Resources

To read more about the National Campaign to Stop Violence and the Do the Write Thing Challenge, visit the NCSV website.

Learn more about the Attorney General’s Defending Childhood Initiative and access publications in OJJDP’s National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence series.

Access the Office for Victims of Crime’s (OVC’s) online series, "Through Our Eyes: Children, Violence, and Trauma." The series addresses the needs of children exposed to violence and victimization and covers topics, such as intervention in schools, violence in the home, evidence-based treatment, and child advocacy strategies. Access additional OVC resources for responding to child and youth victimization.