WASHINGTON – In bringing his message of compassion and non-violence here,the 14th Dalai Lama may not have realized his audience would include a group that has been labeled “the worst students in Baltimore.”
The students from Harbor City High School have failed grades,gotten into fights and been kicked out of multiple schools.
But,watching these students Sunday as the Dalai Lama,Tibet's spiritual leader,spoke was to see them “sort of bringing the Dalai Lama's message to life,” said first-year English teacher Courtney Smith. Smith,24,accompanied the students who attended the event on donated tickets.
The Dalai Lama's public talk attracted a crowd of 16,000 people,the largest paid ticket event he has ever held here. The talk was a part of a 10-day visit that included meetings with President Bush and other political leaders,participation in a scientific conference and an address to the Society for Neuroscience.
The Harbor City students,who are seen as “sort of dangerous,” sat with their arms around each other,keeping tired classmates alert with a poke and “keeping themselves in check,” Smith said. “They were really bashing stereotypes.”
Harbor City student Charles Caradine,17,has two braids down the back of his head and a tattoo on his neck.
“The message I got was people have to have compassion to reflect happiness to themselves and to others,” he said.
When the students heard something they felt the others should notice,they passed around a note. One described one of the Dalai Lama's favorite scientific facts: Studies have shown the part of the brain that is active when compassion is felt is the same part that controls motor skills.
“Makes sense,” the Dalai Lama said. “Cultivating genuine compassion brings courage and strength” and an instinct to reach out to others. Genuine compassion,he said,encourages action.
Pier Berger,17,picked up on the Dalai Lama's message about war and terrorism.
“There needs to be an end to that,” she said.
The Dalai Lama said that nuclear disarmament should continue,followed by the elimination of germ and biological weapons.
“Eventually,our world should be free,” he said. “That is a way to create genuine peace.”
The Dalai Lama also said that,in today's global society,every nation is interconnected. “Therefore,the destiny of one side is the destiny of your side. All are one entity. Therefore,you have to think of all as one nation,” he said. “So,dialogue.”
Dialogue,he said,is the answer to conflicts large and small,from problems with family and friends to problems between nations. “Eventually,this century should be the century of dialogue,” he said. “While promoting peace,we must promote peaceful resolution,dialogue.”
It was a message that reverberated with another group of “at risk” Baltimore students.
“I have an anger problem,” said Hatim Shabazz,a 23-year-old member of the Urban Youth Corps who works in Baltimore's sanitation department. “He has a very positive message that needs to be heard. I think it will help me become less angry and more positive.”
The 12-month Urban Youth Corps program sponsored by Community Building in Partnership Inc. includes life-skills classes and a city work program. Students,most of whom dropped out of school in the ninth or 10th grade,also go on field trips to museums,educational facilities and events such as the Dalai Lama's speech.
“The biggest thing he talked about was peace,” said Ronald Harris,a 19-year-old student at Baltimore City Community College and member of the Urban Youth Corps. “As a person with a bit of a temper,I think it gives me ideas on how to live my life in a better manner.”