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New York City
September 2002

September 11: One Year After
By Matilda Raffa Cuomo and Susan Moesker

The 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 September 11.

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 or schools.
• 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 this spirit.

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 hate.”

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 or www.julianamccourt.org.#

Matilda Raffa Cuomo is Founder and Chairperson, Mentoring USA. Susan Moesker is Acting Director.


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