A horrific incident in 1989 helped to guide George Anthony '83NDC toward what has, for him, become a mission. The death of Yusef Hawkins, a young black man killed in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, polarized racial tensions in the community after he was confronted by a group of young Italian-American men. In the aftermath, the then psychology teacher was deeply concerned with what he saw happening among the young people in the area. “[The murder] split the school district among racial lines,” he recalls. “It was a terrible time.” So when Columbia University offered a public program in conflict resolution certification, he signed up and has since dedicated himself to helping young people and to becoming an internationally-known expert in the field. His innovative work to combat harassment and bullying in schools was featured on national network programming including the ABC “20/20” special report “Social Cruelty and Bullying in America” and CNN’s highlight of his work as a consultant with the Seeds of Peace program which helps teens in regions of conflict around the world come together to discuss the issues they face in their homeland.
In the United States, where a sharp increase in school violence has brought a greater focus on bullying and the ostracizing of students, Anthony is helping to bring healing through his work as executive director with Peace Dynamics Consultants where they specialize in programs such as peer mediation, leadership training, anti-bias and antiviolence education and training for parents, teachers and administrators. At Susan Wagner High School in Staten Island, he created and supervises the Institute for International Leadership, Nonviolence and Service where staff and administrators are trained on conflict resolution and work with students on character development, peer mediation and anti-bullying. “This type of work inspires hope for kids who feel victimized,” Anthony says. “They have a voice and someplace to be heard.”
He says that empowering students is the first step in enabling them to feel like a part of the process that creates a better learning environment, and that ultimately leads to the growth of future leaders. While much has been made of students who “bully” others, Anthony dislikes the term. “If you label someone a bully, then they feel like they have to live up to that label,” he says. “Some of the strongest leaders in my program have been those who were bullies but who, when given a support system, are able to recognize their positive attributes and then change the paradigm in their lives.”
He has spoken at the United Nations (UN) several times, including as part of the International Day of Peace conference, and will take some of the students with whom he works to the UN’s Season on Nonviolence conference as part of an initiative promoting peace during the 64 days between the birthdays of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandhi. “St. John’s gave me roots and in many respects pushed me forward in this role,” says Anthony who, while at the University, was a member of Sigma Chi and the Vincentian Society. “What you do is give young people opportunities and you say, ‘This is what hope looks like,’” he adds. “’This is what your future could look like if you incorporate these elements of peace and non-violence into your life.’ It is a worthy endeavor.”