CHOOSING A BETTER WAY
'I know I don't need to fight'
Chanel Barboza-Owens lives on her own in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood. A peer counselor at Boston Initiative for Teen Pregnancy, she holds two jobs.
"Some of my family members tried to lean me toward violence and pushed me to be a fighter," says the 17-year-old, who is tall, full of humor and good-natured aggression. "'You're big; use your size,' they would say. 'If anybody gets in your way, just hit 'em, hit 'em, hit 'em.' But I understand that this came from their parents teaching them violence. I also had family members who said, 'No, Chanel, violence is inappropriate. You have to do it another way.' They helped me to understand how I would feel if I were in the other person's shoes.... I know I could fight and really hurt someone, but I know now that I don't need to....
"One of my teachers named Agnes helped me, too. She was like a big sister and said her home was always open to me. She said just because I'm big and have always been a tomboy, that it didn't mean I had to be rough and aggressive. I could key myself down and get the right perspective and really help other people in my community.
"I dress real funky, and I'll change my style every day, and if a girl says, 'Oh that's a cute outfit,' there you go. You can be my friend from that one comment. I'm the type of person who goes on the train and talks to everybody. Ten years from now, I want to have three kids, a big house, and be in politics. There is so much I want to do in my life I don't know if I can fit it in one life span ... I was a child of DSS (the Massachusetts Department of Social Services). I grew up in the system, and I want to change everything about it."
LAYING A SOLID FOUNDATION
'A teacher inspired me'
Mai Diggs lives in Brockton, Mass., with her parents. She travels to a private school in Braintree, and goes to church every Sunday.
"I had a teacher in elementary school who inspired me," says the 16-year-old. "She didn't focus on violence, but she laid the foundation for everything you should learn, from morals, to self-esteem, to loving yourself. Every morning we would recite this saying that would reinforce self-esteem, and a lot of times that kept me going: 'Is this going to work for my benefit or my downfall?'
"I got a lot from my parents in morals, in church, and that keeps me out of a lot of things in my surroundings. I'm the type of a person who wouldn't get in a fight. No need for me; it wouldn't help me with anything. In 10 years, I want to have a master's degree and be working toward my doctorate in psychology with a special emphasis in child development. I want to know why and how kids do things, but right now I don't want any kids of my own. I'll be married and living in Virginia - but no kids, unless my husband has something to say."
LAYING A SOLID FOUNDATION
'Violence is a learned behavior'
Jasmine Johnson lives with her mother in the Dorchester section of Boston. She goes to school in East Boston. Jasmine is also a peer counselor at the Boston Initiative for Teen Pregnancy Prevention.
"Yeah, I feel safe, but I know anything could happen to me," the 15-year-old says. "I never had a problem in my community with violence, or violence coming up to me, unless I caused it or started something.
"Violence is a learned behavior, and everybody learns some kind of violence. You can't stop it completely; you can only reduce it.
"The media have a problem with judging certain communities and minorities who live there. If a whole lot of Puerto Ricans live there, nothing but babies; if blacks, then nothing but gangs. The media is really wrong with stereotypes like that.
"In school we should have more mediation, more teachers and mentors acting one-on-one with kids. When I was a kid, and angry and didn't want to talk, this lady sat with me in school, and she figured out what was wrong by using dolls. I would show her what was happening on the dolls, and I would punch the dolls.
"I don't know what I want to be 10 years from now. I don't have a clue, but I want to be able to influence people for good, and work with computers."