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A model of dignity for his students

For some Boston students, Valentine's Day was an occasion not for sugary tokens of affection, but for protest.

Robert Howard Jr., who teaches fifth- and seventh-graders at the Young Achievers Science and Mathematics Pilot School, had been stopped on the street by police two times in as many weeks. He wasn't detained. But as an African-American, he felt harassed - and filed a complaint.

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Racial-profiling incidents often stir up bitter feelings between police and the people they're meant to protect. So it was encouraging to learn from local news accounts that outrage at the 295-student school was steered into constructive channels, in large part because of Mr. Howard's example.

With help from teachers and the principal, students planned a Valentine's Day neighborhood march and made signs with messages ranging from "Love Has No Color" to "Treat Blacks Equally." They also decided to launch a letter-writing campaign to express concerns about racial profiling.

Police did their part, explaining to students that they had received descriptions of a suspect whose clothes matched Howard's. And they apologized to him for the inconvenience.

About 80 percent of the kids at the school are minorities. Many expressed fears that they, too, might be stopped by police. But Howard showed them they aren't helpless. "I want kids to understand that the way you respond to a situation determines whether or not you'll be able to walk away from it feeling safe with your pride, your dignity … intact," he told The Boston Globe.

E-mail teichers@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society