NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – “Don’t laugh at me. Don’t call me names.” Those are some of the lyrics to a song sung by Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter Paul & Mary.
He believes the simple, yet powerful, song could be an anthem for a young generation – the post-Newtown generation.
“Now, I think, America may wake up to the priorities of taking care of our kids and making sure that they’re nurtured and feel safe,” Yarrow told WCBS 880 reporter Sean Adams.
Yarrow put together a special concert for Sandy Hook Elementary School families, teachers, and first responders.
He said it was a moving experience.
“The Sandy Hook promise is they don’t want to be remembered as the place where tragedy occurred,” he said. “They want to be remembered as the place where the United States took its energy and its inspiration to change things so our children were safe and cared for and these kinds of tragedies were prevented in the future.”
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Moving forward, he believes the way to address violence and the phenomenon of school shootings is to focus on “the social and emotional development of children.”
“It is essential for them to become whole human beings, caring human beings,” he said.
14 years ago, Yarrow founded Operation Respect, a crusade against bullying – a school curriculum of music and role playing that emphasizes empathy and civility.
LINK: Operation Respect
“First of all, kids have to learn to identify and express their emotions, know what they’re feeling, respect the fact that each person has a right to feel whatever they feel and that’s part of teaching acceptance of one another, that we all are different,” he said.
“It is all experiential. That means they experience it by having the exchanges, kind of little dramas, that sensitize them to what they need to understand in order to be empathetic,” he said.
“I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call a geek. A little girl who never smiles ’cause I have braces on my teeth,” Yarrow sang to Adams.
The Don’t Laugh At Me program is free and already in 22,000 schools.
Yarrow believes it is needed now more than ever.
“We need to reach the hearts of children if something is going to change,” he said. “Before they learn to fear and to hate, we have to give them the tools to accept each other.”