A citywide Community Standards Initiative (CSI) has been proposed to establish positive standards and values for youth that are acceptable in homes, schools and the community. And it’s not just for the youth, but for adults as well, community activist Al Flowers told the MSR last week.
Part of the plan includes a series of community-based discussions on acceptable values and standards in all 87 neighborhoods in Minneapolis, and establishing a positive behavior incentive program for young people.
“We have to be concerned about what our kids are saying,” said Flowers. “We have to be responsible to say that’s not right…. It’s a particular segment of our community that’s saying it’s all right, but it’s not the majority.”
He wants to “change the atmosphere that you can say these bad things or do disrespectful things, and we [as adults] don’t say anything. This is one of the most important things I have ever been involved in.”
“I was inspired when Al brought the idea to me,” adds Lissa Jones, the former African-American Family Services director. She believes that “things like common courtesy” seem to have all but disappeared from our community. “This is a real opportunity…for us to stand up, clean up and do the right thing.
“Respect is something we can communicate without ever using a word,” continues Jones, who calls CSI a “take-back” campaign. “The kids are mimicking what they’ve seen from us as adults — our rudeness and disrespect for one another.”
Jones, Flowers and local dignitaries stood in front of a roomful of young people August 10 at the Minneapolis Urban League headquarters in North Minneapolis where the CSI plan was publicly introduced.
Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson told the youth that she supports the CSI proposal. She warned them to stop using “four-letter words and demeaning language” to others. “I want you to learn other words,” she said.
In a subsequent statement to the MSR, the MPS said of its relationship with CSI, “Minneapolis Public Schools is pleased to be part of the Community Standards Initiative: Minneapolis. This partnership will enhance the work that MPS already does to address behaviors that are disrespectful and support our schools to enforce positive, productive behaviors that promote respectful interactions between students, between students and teachers and between students and other adults. In our efforts to prepare students for social and academic success, we must work hand-in-hand with our partners to promote positive language and behaviors that will serve students in their academic careers and in their interactions with others.”
State Representative Jeff Hayden said that as a lawmaker, his role is to ensure that young people have the opportunity to be successful. “We are concerned about how you are going to make it. You have my 100 percent commitment” he pledged to CSI.
“All of us feel that way,” said U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who told the young crowd that respect is what they want others to see and feel about them. “All of us adults promise to all that we can to be the best adults we can be, so you can look at us as a proper example of respect.”
He also explained that respect is a two-way process and that “there is no dishonor” to apologize whenever they do something wrong to one another, no matter what it is. Ellison then asked the young audience, “Will you promise that when you get disrespected, that you will simply point that out and not do it in an angry and emotional way?
“If somebody gives you a hard time, will you promise to report that to authorities rather than trying to handle it yourself? Let’s demonstrate love and respect for each other. Let’s live and learn, and build this community,” said the congressman.
Fourteen-year-old Larry Curtis said he will try to be more respectful to others.
“They feel the same way I’m feeling” about respect, said 18-year-old Breanna Morgan, referring to the several other young people she was with.
“I think it is a good thing for all the community to come together,” added Joshua Cunningham, age 14.
Omar Wallace, also age 14, admitted that he sometimes slips up and uses profanity when speaking. He pledged to watch his language.
Rep. Hayden said afterwards, “It is wonderful to have an attentive group of kids who already are engaged and doing good work. The next thing is how do we reach those who aren’t, those who are the outcasts. How do we deal with the most vulnerable children to violence…and how do we get them to change their minds?”
More information about CSI will be released in the coming weeks, Flowers promised, saying that nearly $100,000 would be needed to pay for staff, office space and other operating expenses. New Bethel Baptist Church has committed to serve as the fiscal agent.
“We will be talking to different organizations for funding,” said Flowers. He also proposes a “strong media campaign [using] the church, the community and the media to get the message out.”