Saturday, April 21, 2001

Children offer city messages of peace and respect

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Obey the law. Show respect. Do not hate. Instead, love each other as friends.

        As the riots raged in Cincinnati last week, messages like those rang from the White House to pulpits in pleas for calm and common understanding.

        But on Friday, those words came from preschoolers and grade school students at Wesley Education Center for Children and Families.

[photo] Chaela Thompson, 8, of St. Francis de Sales school, talks with Mayor Charlie Luken about her winning essay on the city's riots.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        “When I look at you all, this is one of the best things that has happened to me in the last two weeks,” Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken said. “It gives me hope that there is a better day ahead.

        “Out of the mouths of babes, I guess.”

        Mr. Luken took off his suit coat and sat on the floor with about 50 students in the Avondale center. He joked with them before reading excerpts from essays some had written about the riots.

        The center's education coordinator developed a poster and essay contest to help the children vent their frustrations and come up with solutions.

        “The kids have a lot of insight to be so young,” said Kim Robinson, who is on the center's board of trustees. “I was struck by how aware the students were at what happened and how they had a personal sense of anguish and pain.”

        The essay contest winner, Chaela Thompson, 8, had an idea.

        “Talk to each other kindly,” she wrote. “Give joy! That's what those people should do but they are not doing it. So make them do it, make them give respect. ... Let's keep (our) city clean and beautiful.”

        Above the fidgety, laughing children, a banner read: “We are all one family under the same sky.”

        “How can you look at those faces and not be uplifted?” Mr. Luken said. “I kept thinking, if everybody did a poster or wrote an essay we'd be a lot better off.”
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