Upstanding young citizens

Posted: November 23, 2012 in Bermuda
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Young Citizen Award recipients with Government Minister Glenn Blakeney. Photo by Bernews.

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know that my 10-year-old son Toby was honoured this week as one of 37 students awarded Young Citizen Awards by the Bermuda Government’s Child & Family Services department to mark the Universal Day of the Child.

This was something of a surprise to us, as well as Toby, as we were not aware of the awards, which have been given for the past eight years to primary, middle and high school children who demonstrate “a kind heart and a caring personality”.  Nominations are made by teachers based on their day-to-day observations without the kids being aware of it.

Anyway, we received an invitation for Toby and two family members to attend a splendid lunch at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess yesterday with Government ministers, TV – the whole nine yards. As proud as I was of Toby’s nomination, I admit part of me did think this was all a bit over the top for what seemed to be something of a “touchy-feely” award. But as the citations for each child were read out, I soon changed my mind.

One child after another was recognised for their compassion or courage – standing up to bullying, not bearing grudges, making time to help out a new class member or one with disabilities, sharing their supplies or snacks, making sure fellow classmates didn’t feel left out, and so on.

Some kids were exceptional. You may already have heard of 9-year-old Victor Scott student Malaikah Abdul-Jabbar, who has already written two books, including Stop The Shooting about the violence in her community.

Victor Scott is a primary school that witnessed a bloody shooting on its fields – it is literally on the frontline between rival gang turfs – and where virtually every student and staff member has been directly affected in some way by the terrible gang violence that shows no sign of abating. I had the privilege of visiting the school last year while producing a publication for YouthNet and was struck by the indefatigable spirit and determination of its teachers and YouthNet mentors to give students like Malaikah every chance to realise  their potential.

As DJ Patrina Paynter, the event’s MC, pointed out, gang violence is perpetrated by a tiny minority but the media headlines often obscure the positive attitudes and achievements of the majority.

That’s why this week’s celebration was worth every cent. Children need to know that being a successful person is not just about grades or money. It’s about setting an example, having values and the moral courage to stand up and defend them. Those attributes can be powerful weapons against bullying, drugs and other anti-social behaviour and the Young Citizen Awards, it seems to me, are a very positive way of encouraging children to be leaders, not followers.

Without a foundation of responsible, caring young people, Bermuda has no hope of building a better future. I hope Toby, Malaikah and all the Young Citizens will continue to “do the right thing” and play their part in that future.

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