Romania Dukes’ son De’Michael was just 18 when he was shot dead by a stray bullet while standing in the stairwell of Cutler Manor Apartments on July 21, 2014.
Soon after, Dukes founded Mothers Fighting for Justice, a nonprofit that supports survivors of gun-violence victims in South Florida.
She was among almost a dozen speakers who spoke at Wednesday’s Miami-Dade County School Board meeting to support an initiative the board unanimously approved to introduce conflict resolution programs into the curriculum starting in kindergarten on through the 12th grade.
“These kids are starting at the age of 6 and up,” Dukes told the nine board members on the dais.
Tracy Brown, whose 23-year-old son, Luis Leon Jr., was murdered in 2007, said no child is too young to learn conflict resolution skills.
“Let’s change the mind-set of these children and try to redirect them to something better,” she said.
District 2 Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall introduced the item.
“I’m still from Liberty City and the projects,” said Bendross-Mindingall, a former teacher and principal. “It is so needed. And, I know all of you sitting out there know it’s needed.”
The action is being taken as South Florida is experiencing a rise in violent crimes and shootings, most notably the gunning down of more than 20 people outside the El Mula Banquet Hall near the Country Club of Miami on May 30.
Miami-Dade County Police Director Alfredo Ramirez said following that incident, one of the worst mass shootings in recent memory, that much of the violence being committed is over things groups of young people say about each other, particularly on social media.
Miami poet Rebecca “Butterfly” Vaughns told the board members that is what she is seeing.
“What we are going through now is ego tripping and attitude,” said Vaughns, adding that she’s known about 42 people who’ve died from gun violence since she was a teenager in the 1980s. “I’ve lost so many people that I know and I love, who were loved ones.”
Said School Board Vice Chair Steve Gallon III, a former school principal, “It’s about foolishness.”
Bendross-Mindingall’s proposal seeks to create places within schools where children who have disagreements with each other can work out their differences before turning to violence. The idea is also to teach teachers in all grades conflict-resolution skills.
“A good teacher can filter this into every subject,” Bendross-Mindingall said.
The item the board passed Wednesday instructs Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to look into the feasibility of integrating conflict resolution programs into all schools, and in every grade. Carvalho said he agreed with the initiative.
“I think it is absolutely true that the short journey from unresolved conflict to where it becomes unspeakable tragedy … cannot be ignored,” Carvalho said.
He is scheduled to discuss his findings during a Sept. 1 meeting of the board’s Academics, Innovation, Evaluation and Technology Committee.
Priscilla Dames Blake, 68, worked in the Miami-Dade public school system for 40 years, much of the time as a safe schools specialist whose main responsibility was conflict resolution. She now runs a business focusing on the topic.
“It’s so, so very important that they just don’t adopt it and in two or three years throw it by the wayside,” Blake said.