After the gathering where I brought together the gang and the gay teenage boy they had been bullying, I called a meeting of the 21st Century Committee. This is a group of young representatives at Casa do Zezinho entrusted with monitoring the goings-on of their fellow 15- to 21-year olds.
At the Casa we have created a series of committees to empower the different age and interest groups with their own voice and sense of responsibility. For example, students on one of these committees asked for lessons on how to prepare and use spreadsheets, claiming the knowledge would help them find employment.
It is clear to me that the best way to help our youth rise out of this marginal existence and to stay out of gangs is to listen to what they have to say and to show trust in their ever independent development.
Because of this approach, we also let the corresponding committee help decide how to best correct inappropriate peer behaviour. In the case in question, the committee simply had not realised the extent to which prejudice against homosexuals was a problem because the committee members too harboured their own prejudices against homosexuals. So we talked.
The rules of the Casa are always discussed among these committee members, all of whom have collectively earned the right to exact appropriate punishments upon fellow students who break the rules.
In this case, they decided that the gang members would lose their privileges to attend the next couple of parties. We hold big parties for the older zezinhos, complete with loud music, flashing lights and no adults. The parties ensure a space where adolescent students can dance and have fun in a drug- and smoke-free environment until midnight – a place where they can truly see how to have fun without drugs. And, truthfully, they love their parties.
The punishment was the perfect measure that the situation merited. The 15 zezinhos who had formed the gang truly felt the weight of peer exclusion.
As told to Ana Aranha