Each night on the news, there are stories of murders from across the nation. People lose their lives and their loved ones, all to acts of senseless violence. One day, I turned on the TV to find that one of those lives lost was a young man who lived just a few miles away from our former neighborhood. We were living in Boston at the time and watched our Florida community suffer the loss of Trayvon Martin. We wanted to do something, but felt powerless to help.
A couple of years later, another senseless death cut even closer to home. A young man in our Boston neighborhood who was bright, inquisitive, and seemed to be doing well got into an argument with another youth. Things escalated, and another teen was shot and killed.
In both cases, fear, anger, and a lack of understanding led to situations that grew wildly out of control. To the people involved, violence seemed to be the first and best solution. What if there were another way? What if people had tools to deal with conflict in a healthy way? What if people were empowered to make choices that strengthened their lives and communities not destroyed them?
Grieving the lives and futures lost in these young men, we asked ourselves these questions. Like before, we wanted to do something. This time, we knew that we had to act.
“The heart of our work focuses on empowering those without a voice.”
My husband and I looked at what we could do to be a part of the solution, and realized that our work as with an empowerment tool called SMART Conversations is what we had to offer. If we could plant these seeds of communication and respect in one person or one organization, how quickly could it spread? How big of a difference could it make? It was with this hope that The Dignity Institute was born.
Using the base of SMART Conversations, we developed programs that promoted the idea that all humans are worthy of respect, and deserve opportunities for success in life. At the same time, we discovered two very talented rap artists and an urban dancer who shared The Dignity Institute’s vision for giving underserved youth a positive path in life. By combining the gift of SMART Conversations with positive self-expression through urban arts, The Dignity Institute created programs for teens and children..
Since then, The Dignity Institute has worked with community partners, foundations, individuals, and companies to offer its programs at low- to no-cost to youth, teens, and families throughout Boston. We have grown, adding Pathways to Profession, a program designed to help teens transition from high school to life as successful young adults. The Dignity Institute looks forward to touching many more lives in the future. We hope to expand our work throughout Boston and beyond, so that every human being is empowered to live a life of dignity.