LH students advised to 'Break the Cycle'
Students in the ninth and 10th grades at Laurel Highlands High School were treated to 40 minutes of life-changing messages and hair-raising stories as part of the Breaking the Cycle program.
Since 1999, Breaking the Cycle has used motivational speakers to promote communication, understanding and forgiveness.
"Breaking the Cycle is about nonviolent conflict resolution and forgiveness," said Ian Winter of Breaking the Cycle. "We visit with thousands of students every year in the tri-state area."
Featuring different speakers for different demographics and situations, Breaking the Cycle highlights motivational speakers such as author and foundation founder Johann Christoph Arnold; Sergio Arquenta, a former El Salvadorian gang member; Det. Steven McDonald, a New York police officer shot and paralyzed in the line of duty; and Hashim Garrett, who was shot on the streets of New York and paralyzed at age 15.
Violence was not the message at the assembly, but forgiveness. Students were asked to think before they act, and to forgive if a situation becomes out of control.
"Violence affects us all," Principal John Diamonds said. "And just like violence, nonviolence is taught, and it needs to be learned. Nonviolence is the answer and we want to work toward the prevention of violence."
Surrounded by paintings of Mahatma Gandhi and his messages of peace, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, featured speaker Garrett struggled to his feet, mounted by braces, and addressed the enthralled crowd of students.
Garrett related his tale of tragedy and forgiveness, telling the students what led to him being paralyzed for life.
"I was in Brooklyn, 15-years-old and hanging with some kids," Garrett said. "And although I knew that they were into some things that weren't so good, I wanted to be just like them."
Garrett told how his friends suddenly yelled "run," and Garrett turned to stare down the barrel of a semi-automatic machine gun.
"There was this 16-year-old kid with a submachine gun right behind me," Garrett said, "and as I ran, I told myself that if I make it around this corner, I'll be alright."
Garrett did not make the corner and was shot six times, one bullet damaging his spinal cord, ending any chance of the young man walking again.
"I had six entry wounds and six exit wounds," Garrett said. "That was 12 holes that I had in my 15-year-old body."
It was then, through prayers to God, that Garrett was saved, he said, and he started on a path of forgiveness.
"I forgave the kid who shot me," Garrett said. "You can hate or resent someone all you like, and it won't ever even bother them. But it will eat at you. They can't feel my hate. Only I can feel my hate."
At first, Garrett explained he was stricken with how he would spend his life, but soon the answer came to him.
"Now I know why my life was spared," Garrett said. "If I can forgive someone for shooting me six times and paralyzing me, then you can forgive your family and friends for the things they do."
Garrett addressed the issues of acquaintance violence, warning students on the danger of peer pressure and trusting questionable associates, and suggested practical ways to identify and defuse possibly volatile situations.
"Always be careful of the words that you choose," Garrett said. "You're never really certain of another person's situation and you could easily say something that could bring a simple argument to the next level."
Each student was given a book titled "Why Forgive," a compilation of 51 stories of tragedy turned around by forgiveness.
"I think that the program was very good and he is very inspirational," 10th-grader Amy Detweiler said. "I thought that it was interesting -- his whole message about violence and how it really does affect everyone."
"He has a lot of courage," 10th-grade student Mallory Miller said. "He kept on going and he never gave up. I admire him for that."