In this assembly Brian Radcliffe invites students to consider recent news stories about anti-social behaviour and the consequences
A leader, 2 Readers and a Group of 6.
Engagement[Readers 1 and 2 stand at the centre of the stage, with a group of 6 students surrounding them in a semi-circle. Reader 1 is male, Reader 2 is female. The group speaks in unison, increasing the volume with each successive statement.]
Reader 1: I’m the old lady who lives on her own.
Group: We’re bored.
Reader 2: I’m the man with the twisted face who sits in the wheelchair.
Group: We like to make a rowdy noise.
Reader 1: I’m the single mum with a baby who cries all night.
Group: We like to have a laugh, making fun of weirdoes.
Reader 2: I’m the immigrant who finds it hard to speak the English language.
Group: We throw things: eggs at windows, bags of flour, sometimes stones.
Reader 1: I’m the mother of the boy with Down’s syndrome.
Group: Letterboxes are useful… for fireworks and dog poo.
Reader 2: I’m the blind man with the white stick who depends on his guide dog.
Group (shouts!): We rule our street.
Leader: There’s a part of the Bible that’s known as the Book of Proverbs. You’ll find it near the middle. Proverbs is full of wise words to be passed on to young people as they begin to embark on adult life. Here’s an example:
Reader: The lifestyle of good people is like the first gleam of sunlight rising at dawn that keeps getting brighter and brighter until it’s broad daylight.
The lifestyle of the wicked is like pitch darkness, and they will never realise what makes them stumble.
(This is a paraphrase of Proverbs 4:18-19)
My question is: Who shines the light on your street?
Last week the news was full of a tragic story from Leicestershire. A mother of a young woman with learning difficulties had taken her daughter in the car to a quiet location, doused the inside of the car in petrol and set it alight. Both women died.
Why did the woman do this? It was because she’d suffered years of abuse from a gang of young people on the street where she lived. It started with taunts at the disabilities of her daughter, which progressed to obscene insults hurled as they sat at home at night. Then there were threats, and fireworks lit and put through the letterbox. The windows of the house were pelted with flour, eggs and stones. Her son was locked in a shed at knifepoint on one occasion, as well as being beaten with an iron bar. In her diary, the mother wrote about how she sat in the dark until the early hours of the morning, listening to the intimidation, fearful of what might happen next. She was at her wits’ end with the stress and anxiety. She was driven to despair, so she killed her daughter and herself. (1)
Why did a group of teenagers, no different in age and background to many of you, deliberately choose to make the life of this woman and her vulnerable children so unpleasant? These are the kind of responses reporters get when interviewing young people and their parents around the country.
Group member 1: There’s nothing to do around here. The council built a children’s playground for the little kids but nothing for us.
Group member 2: It’s only a laugh, isn’t it? If people can’t take a joke, it’s not our fault.
Group member 3: We didn’t mean for them to get so upset. They must be over sensitive.
Group member 4: To be honest, we don’t want weirdoes living where we live. There’s a place for them. She should have taken the hint and gone.
Group member 5: Nobody stops us. The neighbours just ignore what was going on. It’s just as much their fault.
Group member 6: As a parent I’ve got to defend my own child. Can you prove he was involved? I don’t believe he’d deliberately do anything as bad as that. He gets led astray by the really bad kids.
Leader: Let’s get back to my question from earlier: Who shines the light on your street? The words from Proverbs talk about the effect the lifestyle of good people can have on the place where they live. Just like the sun rising in the morning, acts and words of sensitivity, helpfulness, care and concern can dispel the gloom of depression and stress.
That woman was living under the strain of bringing up a child with learning difficulties. She’d probably had to fight to get her opportunities in education, battle with complicated forms to receive the benefits she was entitled to, and organise and plan for her to do the simplest things in life. And she knew she’d probably have to do this until the day she died. What could those young people in her street have done if they were so bored?
Group member 1: Maybe I could have offered to clean the windows and make the house look tidy.
Group member 2: Maybe I could have asked if she needed anything when I was popping down the shops.
Group member 3: Maybe I could have stopped and had a little chat.
Group member 4: Maybe I could have invited her son to come to the footie match with us.
Group member 5: Maybe I could have smiled every time I saw any of the family.
Group member 6: Maybe I could have stopped the rest of the group when they began to harass her.
Leader: Any of those actions would have caused the sun to rise a little on that lady’s life. As the Proverb said: the lifestyle of good people helps make the place where you live into a better place to live. Maybe the outcome could have been very different.
Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.
Dear GodMay my expressions, words and actions be like the sun rising in the morning.May this school be a better place to learn because I’m here.May my street be a better place to live because I’m there.May my home be a better place to grow because I’m there.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009
About the author: Brian Radcliffe