Young Men’s Group: Respect, Acceptance, Consistency

The majority of COMPASS students and clients have had direct experience with violence and its effects. Since 1987, following the murder of a former student, COMPASS established the Violence Prevention Program. Students, teachers, and staff were eager to prevent a recurrence of this devastating incident, so they created the first program in Massachusetts to provide a violence prevention curriculum specifically for students with special needs.

Originally only a week-long initiative integrated into the curriculum, the changing needs of students and their exposure to trauma has led to a yearlong program being developed due to the nature and scale of violence prevention education needed. The Violence Prevention education is now integrated into all COMPASS programs and the curriculum of elementary, middle, and high school students. It includes special projects and activities to promote skills that supports the development of self-esteem, respect for others, and socially acceptable ways of expressing anger.

KJ from The Morning Wakeup on 97.7FM became involved with COMPASS in 2017 as the emcee of the Violence Prevention Ceremony. In the spring of 2018, he began working with Caseworkers Jaye Kincade and Kin’ta Johnson to form a young men’s group with COMPASS’ high school students. This group offers 7-10 young men a relaxed setting where they can openly discuss successes, challenges, hopes, and fears. Providing insight based on their own experiences KJ, Jaye, and Kin’ta engage with these young men in a very real and respectful way – which they receive in return from the young men. “I was their age once, and I faced similar situations to them,” expressed KJ. To KJ, education is the key to his family and to success, “My grandfather was the only literate farmer in his town, and he was the only one around that sent all 9 of his children to college.”

Jaye and Kin’ta often compare these group discussions to “feeling like we’re at the barber shop – where friends come together to find a welcoming community.” They were both surprised at how quickly the young men opened up during these discussions and were willing to be vulnerable because they felt respected and accepted, along with knowing that their conversations would be confidential. Jaye and Kin’ta also articulated how important it was for the young men to have a role model in KJ because he showed the students consistency and “made the students know that they are already part of something [positive].”

On Wednesday, June 12th, the COMPASS School hosted its 32ndAnnual Violence Prevention Ceremony (with KJ as the keynote speaker), a celebration of the tremendous effort of its school community in counteracting harmful behavior. This program focused on students’ resilience when faced with difficult situations that may turn to violence if not handled with care. Additionally, it is a time when the COMPASS community got to highlight outstanding community members and organizations that provide its students with internship opportunities to learn employable skills. The recognition recipients also included 2019 COMPASS graduates, Science Fair winners, and Step 5 students from COMPASS’ BEAMS program.

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