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    Activists push oath to reduce violence

    Organizers hope the Hands and Words Are Not for Hurting Project will find its way into local public schools as a daily devotion.

    By MELANIE AVE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001


    TAMPA -- Could a simple oath recited by students every day help curb school violence? Could it sow the seeds of peace just as the Pledge of Allegiance instills patriotism?

    Linda Blume, a Palm Harbor woman, thinks so and is urging all Florida schools to promote a daily non-violence pledge.

    "It's so simple, so easy, why not do it?" asked Blume, a volunteer and mother of three.

    On Tuesday, Blume held an organizational meeting with about 60 educators and non-violence activists at the St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa. Her goal: spread the word about a 4-year-old national public awareness campaign known as "Hands and Words Are Not for Hurting Project."

    The Salem, Ore.-based project aims to get everyone, particularly schools, to take an oral and written pledge against violence. After hearing about the project, the meeting participants stood, raised their right hands and vowed:

    "I will not use my hands or my words for hurting myself or others."

    The project involves having students recite that 14-word pledge every day. In addition, students are asked to trace an outline of their hand on purple paper and commit to the pledge by signing their names.

    "Take the pledge to heart," encouraged Ann Kelly, the founder and director of the project who was in town to promote the pledge. "Mean it when you say it."

    Blume hopes local schools will make the pledge a part of their character education and conflict-resolution programs. Both Hillsborough and Pinellas schools are leaving the project up to teachers and school principals.

    One of those on hand to take the pledge Tuesday was Linda Jones, supervisor of safe and drug-free schools for Pinellas.

    "Although it's not a solution by itself, it can make a very bold statement and visible statement to being non-violent," she said. "It's very inspirational."

    Three years ago, Pinellas purchased brochures for the hands project and created a lesson plan, but few schools embraced it, Jones said. That was before the Columbine, Colo., school shooting, which transformed the way many people view school safety.

    "Now people are more responsive and looking for solutions," Jones said.

    A former St. Petersburg resident and former self-defense instructor, Kelly developed the project because of the numerous victims she and her husband, Bob, an emergency room physician, encountered.

    "It's about educating people," said Kelly, a 54-year-old with a black belt in karate. "Anger is a feeling. Everyone has it. But violence is a choice."

    Kelly said the project has been embraced by schools, homeless shelters, day-care centers and charitable organizations in 40 states and three countries. A middle school in Junction City, Ore., has recorded an 85 percent reduction in assaults during one year with the project.

    Because of the repetition, children eventually learn to hold one another accountable and the pledge becomes a part of their expected behavior, she said.

    Pasco teacher Kari Kadlub plans to implement the pledge in her classes at Wesley Chapel High School. She sees it as a way of keeping children from becoming verbally or physically violent.

    "I don't know why any school would reject it," she said.

    The pledge

    "I will not use my hands or my words for hurting myself or others."

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