Using Words, Not Weapons

May 1, 2015
EC from DC

Using Words, Not Weapons

This week, I was honored to visit two local schools: Wendell Phillips Elementary and James Bridger Middle School.

Joyce Neal, Principal Deloris Brown, and Mr. R. Stephen Green, Superintendent of Kansas City School District welcomed us to their school, in connection with the Central Bank of Kansas City's Teach Children to Save lesson. Also present to help was Mr. Bill Dana, CEO Central Bank of Kansas City, who helped create this pilot program to contribute to financial education and literacy in our urban KC schools.

Photo by Sarah A. Cousineau. Pictured seated on the floor: Jamya Monk, Nadia Davidson, Cyan Walker, Keyah Thomas, Hussein Hussein; standing: TaiiVionne Palmer, Ke’Ara King, Gabrielle Samuels, Armani Stinson, Lamont Ealy, Terrance Smith, Mikiah McGinnis, Ashiauna Brown, Cedric Hinkle, Aubree Herron, Israel Conrad, Samaya Brown; and in the rear: Erika Loke (Student Teacher UMKC), Joyce Neal, (Teacher) Congressman Cleaver, Libertie Watkins, Dr. R. Stephen Green (KCPS Superintendent), Stephen Gaston, Deloris Brown (Principal), Bill Dana, (Central Bank President/CEO)


We read Uncle Jeb’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell, the story of an African American barber who, despite significant setbacks, saves enough money to buy his own barbershop. The author introduced a number of complicated but important issues, both financial and historical. Together, we learned about saving money, making savings goals, the potential of bank failure, opportunity cost, and segregation.

As we sat down to begin, I asked the students a question. What was the most expensive thing they ever bought? They answered — pizza! We laughed, and then we talked about something we often take for granted: the exchange of money for goods or services. I explained how money came about by first bartering for exchange of food or goods, then precious stones and gold, and now using our currency today. The story of Uncle Jeb was touching and timely. He faces setbacks, as he struggles to start his own business, but uses his savings to help a family member in need. When he finally saves the amount he needs, the Depression hits. At that time, the banks were not insured, and he lost everything. I do not want to spoil the ending, but let me simply say that Uncle Jeb, like many of us, set his sights on a dream. Sometimes things happen, and we must alter our dreams, but we must try to get there in the end.

After our lesson was finished, Sarah Cousineau from Central Bank finished the lesson with the children. Thanks to the Central Bank’s First Book/ABA pilot program, the classroom and the children received forty new books!

At my visit to Bridger Middle School, we talked about a different issue: ISIS, or the Islamic State, and the turmoil in the Middle East. Students from Mr. Jeff Weary’s sixth grade Social Studies class at James Bridger Middle School had banded together to send letters and share their thoughts with me. Mr. Weary introduced his class to the Middle East, its geography and religion. He assigned his class to write on whether or not the United States should take action against the terrorist group known as ISIS. Mr. Weary sent 17 letters, and students raised important questions and concerns.

Samson Burns argued for intervention, saying the terror ISIS had inflicted on cities and villages, and the violence they had wrought against women and children. Mathew Cooper acknowledged the unintended consequences of war, writing that, “too many times in the past the U.S. has helped other countries and it has posed a bigger threat or posed a bigger problems for the U.S. We would be aiding other countries or focusing more on other countries other than our own country and we are hurt by it.” Annika Hillis pointed out that ISIS has hurt so many: “One of my reasons for America taking action against ISIS is that ISIS kills people. Not just American, but fellow Muslims, both Sunni and Shi’ite alike. No religion should involve killing innocent people, especially those that would stand by you otherwise.”

Together, we reviewed the history of the region and how it was divided. I talked about the religious influence and there was a great discussion about the potential and peril of using drones as we continue the fight against ISIS. They talked about saving American soldiers lives and the victims’ families that would not forgive us for the loss of their loved ones. One student said we should use words not weapons. I cannot think of a better note to end on than that.