President Obama’s sister spends 2 hours mentoring Excellence Academy students from Monroe, LA

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For peace to begin, each youth must be prepared to challenge themselves to take action in a personal way, was the encouragement given by President Barack Obama’s sister to youth from Monroe seeking solutions to Monroe’s youth violence problem. Maya Soetoro-Ng, sister of the President, spoke to students and leaders visiting Hawaii and laid out a multi-faceted plan to bring peace in communities around the world.

She commended the Monroe community for helping youth get a birds eye view of the world. “The more that you know about other people the less inclined you are to be in conflict with them.”

Travel gives young people a lively path of options and helps youth find themselves, Dr. Ng said. The students, all Excellence Academy Charter School students and graduates, are part of the school’s travel and leadership program called “Time Travelers.”

All Excellence students travel at the school’s expense within 500 miles of Monroe in study tours. The Time Travelers visit and study leadership and cultural diversity in all 50 states, and pay for it themselves. She promoted the concept of Chee chee one Tee – “Watch the eyes.” Those who have traveled see the world with different eyes.

Dr. Ng, spoke briefly about her life with her famous brother, but spent most of her time listening to Monroe youth express frustrations about the growing youth violence in Monroe. She listened closely because conflict resolution is the main focus of her tenure at the University of Hawaii where Dr. Ng has been a professor for 17 years. She is the head of the Marsunaga Institute for peace and conflict.

Cadence Wright, a Time Traveler through the Excellence Academy Program, stands with Professor Maya Ng at UH.

For nearly 2 hours spoke and mentored the group from Louisiana. Dr. Ng said the reduction in violence requires personal peace, action and changes in public policy. “Peace must mean action,” Dr. Ng told the group, “which does not always mean marching or protesting, but by establishing dialogue, changing public policies and perceptions and creating a sense that everyone matters, even the perpetrators.”

There is room for every level of participation from persons who are active advocates to those who arrange structured dialogue, “everyone has a role to play.” Youth noted a general sense of kinship in the Hawaiian community, inspite of its diverse population of Chinese, Japanese, Philippine, white and Hawaiian cultures. “That general sense of community,” said Dr. Ng. “is the result of the island’s active push to promote a sense of community.”

While there is violence in Hawaii, gun violence is rare and the incidence of violence is low, she said. She said homelessness and a growing Meth abuse problem is the Island’s concern. She challenged Monroe youth to devise ways to respond that they could actually do. After minutes of group sessions, ideas evolved, such as peer mentoring and Spoken Word sessions where youth are free to vent emotions without prohibitions on language and verbalized rage. “Never underestimate the power of words,” she said emphasizing the importance of the Spoken Word venue among young adults and youth.

She also showed youth ways to take action to show that they care including volunteerism to help with the elderly, peer tutors and other projects that show love and care. “You can never harm someone if you have grown to understand them,” said Dr. Ng. People who act violently are acting on a need, often the needs are ignored by their family and the community. Those who care, identify the need and respond with concern, care and changes in public policy.

The idea of identifying the need, promoted Neville High School student Neriah Tolliver to say, “Peace building is when you find the root reason for the problem and destroy it so that peace can follow.”

“Peace must mean action, dialogue is one form of action,” said Dr. Ng encouraging structured opportunities for youth dialogue. She said youth need opportunities that help them to dream and see pathway options. Those who see no path or options for themselves resort to violence. She said travel is one opportunity that reveals a path, but not the only one; it does help youth find themselves.

She said in police relations it’s easier for perpetrators to act out violence against officers if they are not seen as people with needs and feelings. It is also easier for law enforcement to act violently toward citizens whose humanity has been ignored. “A community’s activism should embrace the establishment of safe houses, counseling centers or ways to mend fences and build peaceful atmospheres.”

The mentoring session with Dr. Ng was arranged by Monroe native Caesar Smith, Jr. who now lives in Hawaii.