Share this article

print logo

Bennett students’ nonviolence agenda seeks to repair image

Bennett High School was the target of much online vitriol after 10 of its students were arrested recently for allegedly assaulting and robbing an elderly man in Shoshone Park.

It didn’t sit well with other students, who took disparaging Internet posts about their school personally, their principal said.

They did something about it on Friday, donating $200 they had raised themselves to the Sister Karen Klimczak Center for Nonviolence.

“We’re showing people that not all students are like that,” Chronicle McLain, 16, said of the students accused of the Shoshone Park assault. “We’re not all deficient like that. We don’t all make poor decisions.”

McLain, who just finished his junior year at Bennett, helped organize the fundraiser with classmates Rachel Bish and Eric Thompson.

On June 7, they sold black ribbons to other students for $2. Anyone who bought a ribbon could wear jeans to school instead of the school’s uniform. And on Monday, students remained silent in the hallways between classes as a way to show a commitment to nonviolence.

“This is a nonviolent school,” said Principal Teena Jackson. “We don’t support the actions that took place by some of our students. And by no means does it represent the student population here at Bennett High School.”

The assault happened May 16, when city employee James LeGrand, 66, of the Mayor’s Impact Team tried to break up a fight in Shoshone Park. He was assaulted and robbed, and the incident was captured on video.

Chronicle said most of the alleged attackers were his friends.

“Obviously, I was very angry with them at first,” Chronicle said of his friends. “And it was kind of outrageous what they did ... We were extremely disappointed with them.”

Wearing shirts that read, “Bennett students believe in peace,” Chronicle and some of his classmates presented a $200 check to Vivian Waltz of the Klimczak center, which holds workshops in local schools on peaceful conflict resolution. Waltz said the money will go directly toward the organization’s work in Buffalo Public Schools.

Waltz found it unfortunate that others have associated the actions of a few Bennett students with the entire school. But, she said, “It’s work like these students are doing that helps to dispel those kinds of myths.”

Leonard Katz, who graduated from Bennett in 1953, was at the school on Friday.

He has served as the president of the school’s alumni association and helps students prepare for college. He said he is proud of the students’ fundraiser and donation.

“I’m glad that the school and the students of the school responded to this awful event that took place and making clear that Bennett High School is not like that,” Katz said. “And we come into the school all the time. It’s as calm and peaceful as you could imagine. Students are polite.”

Chronicle said he feels “100 percent safe” coming to Bennett every day. And LeGrand said in a statement that he will still attend track meets held at the school.

“I appreciate what they’re doing, and I understand their feelings,” LeGrand said of the students. “I’m sorry if this incident painted the school in a bad light. I know it’s not that way.”