New book armed with lessons in civic education

Lawman Lynch, author of newly released children’s book, “The Adventures of Kiko: Be the best you,” posing with student Imani Banbury of Bedford Salvation Army after school program and Antonette Bovelle, where Lynch also serves as director.
Photo by Kevin Bollers

What does it mean to be a “good citizen?”

Typically, we’d assume being a good citizen in any society refers to abiding to the laws but what about giving up your seat on the bus to a pregnant woman or children entering a room and greeting those in the space with a simple “good afternoon” or “good morning?” Not to mention, volunteering for the sake of volunteering and not for credit.

These simple nuances all contribute to being a good citizen within any community and Jamaican Lawman Lynch has published “Adventures of Kiko” — a new children’s book with an underlying message urging the reader to be the best you.

“I observed that a lot of our young people, our children, can be a little disrespectful without knowing they are being disrespectful because they were not taught basic civic knowledge. I decided, along with the staff members in the after-school program, to focus on civic education. The importance of respecting self and respecting others, of celebrating one’s accomplishments, of being patriotic. The book in itself is about bringing awareness to civic education and understanding the core values of being civil in a society where everyone might not think alike, or dress like, or act alike but at the end of the day we need to have basic respect and appreciation for people,” he said.

During his keynote address, Lynch, the center director and GAINS after-school program director at the Bedstuy Salvation Army, first described various scenarios describing instances where it appears a sense of morality has disappeared from our communities like a passenger boarding a bus from the back door exit and subsequently threatening the driver.

“A staff member told me the story of being on the B44 when a passanger got on the bus through the backdoor, so technically he wasn’t a passanger he was actually stealing a ride,” he said. “If you’re entering through the backdoor, you didn’t pay your way to ride the bus. Our staff member said this person literally threatened the bus driver to move the bus saying: ‘you better move the bus because that’s how we do it in the Stuy.’”

He utilized his real-life observations of the students he works with everyday to write “Adventures of Kiko.” Witnessing children walk into the building and ignore the adults as they walked to their respective classes, Lynch and his staff members saw a need to instill in the students the importance of respect – starting with a simple greeting.

Impacting nearly 150 kids ranging in the ages of five to 19 years old daily, Lynch saw Kiko in a combination of his students. “Kiko came into being based on my observation of the children I have to work with on a daily basis,” he said.

With students from the after-school program, parents and Salvation Army majors all in attendance for his book launch, Lynch delivered a call to action to all those in the room. He believes teaching civic education to children has to start in the early developmental stages between the ages of five and 12, by the time a child enters their teens they have entered another cycle of their development that relies on the making of their own choices.

Unpacking civic education to a young child can appear daunting but the book is written in a relatable sense as it follows Kiko and his classmates through different scenarios in Bedstuy equipped with various lessons. Jenny Dorsey, director of middle school at the Salvation Army, mentioned her favorite chapter of the book to be when Kiko encourages his classmates to volunteer and serve.

“‘Adventures of Kiko’ is a unique approach that is accessible to students and inspires readers to serve their community,” Dorsey said. “To not always expect people to thank you for what you do but to be a good influence in the community is important.”

Aikea Thornhill, a high school coordinator at the Salvation Army, also offerred a speech endorsing Lynch’s book. Serving on the editorial board, Thornhill watched the book develop to ultimately become the final product hitting shelves everywhere. He firmly believes that this book is a step in the right direction to arm children with the knowledge to consider solutions to problems that are less violent and destructive in nature. Providing the example of a young boy he’s watched grow up, Thornhill describes the boy’s transformation as a now 14-year-old teen who wants to purchase a gun for protection.

“I grew up in Marcy Projects and civic education is not something that is in any school in this neighborhood. Like the young boy I mentioned, maybe if this book was in his school he wouldn’t think of buying a gun as the answer to his problems,” Thornhill said.

While “Adventures of Kiko” is a children’s book, Lynch encourages parents and guardians to also read the book along with their child. He affirms that the lesson of civic education is not for a child to learn outside the home, instead, it starts and is fostered through the parent.

“I would prefer if a child and a parent read this book together opposed to just giving a child the book to just read. Everybody has to be apart of this and even with civic education when I talk about it I try to get the parents involved as well because if the parent is not involved you can teach a child ABCDEFG if they go home their parents might teach them something from L to Z and then a lot of what they learn is unlearned at home so it’s very important for the child and the parents and the wider community to be on the same page,” he said.

“Adventures of Kiko” is just the beginning. Lynch is already working on the second volume, focusing on high school dramas set to hopefully be released in the Fall of this year. Also, he hopes to get the book into more curriculums and forums for educators to expand the book’s message and impact.

“When I did the book, it was for my kids here at the center,” he said. “It was for them to understand civic education but at the end of the day it’s about leaving a product, a legacy so that person can have it long after I am gone. The truth is, the more persons that have it the better it is. I’m apart of a network of after-school programs, my after-school program is funded by the Department of Youth and Community Development so I guess moving forward is to have a conversation with my program manager and other program managers to see how best we can have different forums to read civic education and use this book as a tool of promoting the message of civic education.”

“Adventures of Kiko” is available on Amazon, for Kindle and in the Barclay Center book store for purchase. Lawman Lynch believes constant civility is not a myth so long as it is continuously practiced daily starting from childhood.

Reach reporter Alley Olivier at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at aoliv[email protected]nglocal.com. Follow Alley on Twitter @All3Y_B.

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