11: One Year After
Raffa Cuomo and Susan Moesker
unthinkable horror has passed, and we are left with the memories:
the remorse, the heroism, the frightening questions, and the gaping
hole in both our city and in our hearts. And what of the children
who witnessed our national tragedy? How have they fared?
Mentoring USA mentors know that the young children in the Lower
East Side mentoring programs were terrified. Several of our youth
voiced that they didn’t feel safe living in New York. Some children
expressed relief that they lived in Queens or the Bronx–places
terrorists “don’t care about.” Some told stories of parents who
weren’t managing very well. Children related stories of parents
who refused to leave their homes or to continue to transact business
with individuals of certain nationalities in the weeks following
Coping with their feelings and the traumatizing images on television–not
to mention the mixed messages coming from adults–would be quite
difficult for any child. How does a child respond? For that matter,
how do adults respond?
These are questions that Mentoring USA wants to address through
our B.R.A.V.E. Juliana initiative this September, named in honor
of one of the youngest 9/11 victims, Juliana Valentine McCourt,
who, along with her mother, was lost on United Airlines Flight
175. This new program has been made possible by a generous gift
from the Juliana Valentine McCourt Children’s Education Fund,
the mission of which is “to foster harmony, peace, and understanding
among the children of the world.”
B.R.A.V.E. Juliana is an expansion of Mentoring USA’s B.R.A.V.E.
(Bias-Related Anti-Violence Education) Initiative, which was established
in 1996 in response to an increase in violence and hate crimes
involving children in New York City’s schools and streets. B.R.A.V.E.
Juliana uses a one-to-one, site-based mentoring model to impart
multi-cultural awareness and non-violent conflict resolution strategies
to youth ages 5-18, in order to enhance their connections to their
own cultures and to develop respect for children of other cultures.
The B.R.A.V.E. program embodies Juliana’s spirit of universal
acceptance and mutual respect, and helps mentors to better understand
their mentees, who often come from very different backgrounds.
B.R.A.V.E. Juliana will be launched in several phases. First,
all mentors, new and returning, will be required to participate
in an additional 2.5 hour “B.R.A.V.E. Juliana” training component.
This intensive, interactive cultural diversity training session
for mentors will emphasize both how we experienced diversity as
children, and how we can help children to embrace the diversity
that New York City has to offer. We recognize that adults are
not able to guide children toward tolerance and compassion if
they have not identified, admitted to, and grappled with their
own prejudices. Training will involve role-playing exercises to
better prepare mentors for “tough moments” with mentees. And as
this training emphasizes acceptance through mutual respect and
understanding, it will prepare mentors for the experience of interacting
with a child who may embody different cultural, religious, socio-economic,
and sexual identities.
In order to build upon Mentoring USA’s dropout prevention philosophy,
the initiative will include a literacy component. Each mentor
and mentee will receive an age-appropriate list of books on B.R.A.V.E.
Juliana themes (ethnic heroes, non-traditional families, world
religions, geography, immigrants and immigration, history) from
which they may choose those books which interest them most. Mentoring
USA will order the books–which will be the child’s to keep–with
the understanding that they are to be read and discussed with
their mentors. In addition, Mentoring USA has created a guidebook
of activities that build upon the book list, such as “Everyday
Acts of Kindness and Courage,” “Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do:
Identifying Gender-Stereotyped Attitudes,” “What to do with the
Empty Lot: An Exercise in Problem-Solving,” and “What is Community.”
Yet B.R.A.V.E. Juliana is more than simply a literacy program.
In addition to the reading and discussion sessions, Mentoring
USA will schedule a “speakers’ bureau” of consultants, including
experts from various fields (child psychology, religion, conflict
resolution, diversity education, theater, dance and movement,
visual arts) who will facilitate interactive group programming
with mentors and mentees around B.R.A.V.E. Juliana themes. We
piloted several such sessions last year, to great success. Mentees
and their mentors engaged in a wide variety of horizon-expanding
activities, including some of the following experiences:
Making identity collages. Youth and mentors made autobiographical
artworks using pictures and text found in magazines which they
then pasted all together to represent their community centers
• A theater workshop consisting of individual skits depicting
conflicts experienced in real life by the youth, with peaceful
solutions presented back to the group in the form of skits.
• A book-making session, led by a psychoanalyst who specializes
in art therapy, in which each youth created a book with the help
of his or her mentor, and each writer got a chance to read his
or her story to the group.
Using various educational and experiential methods, Mentoring
USA hopes to complement our existing mentoring programs by offering
our mentors and mentees both a process and a forum for advocating
cultural diversity. We are grateful that David McCourt, little
Juliana’s father, has selected Mentoring USA as a vehicle to share
some of his daughter’s exceptional sensitivity to the feelings
of others, a spirit which is embodied, to some degree, in all
children. It is our responsibility as adults to continue nurturing
In David McCourt’s words, “Juliana, at four years old, was an
extraordinary example of a person who displayed sensitivity to
everyone’s feelings. Her gift of love to all children was manifested
in her mother’s love. If we can pass that gift on to create more
harmony among children, future generations will be more compassionate.
After September 11th , I realized that I could spread
Juliana’s message of love and thereby teach children to live without
Let Mentoring USA train you as a mentor to help a child live and
learn about other children in their school and neighborhood and
around the globe. For more information on how to become involved
with B.R.A.V.E. Juliana, visit www.mentoringusa.org
Raffa Cuomo is Founder and Chairperson, Mentoring USA. Susan Moesker
is Acting Director.
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