Ambassadors For Justice: Celebrating Good Kids - A Column By U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin
Ambassadors for Justice: Celebrating Good Kids
United States Attorney, Southern District of West Virginia
Teenagers today face a mountain of challenges and temptations, as those of us with kids and grandkids are painfully aware. We live in a world that is much more complicated than it was just a generation ago. Back then, parents and teachers worried mainly about drinking and cutting class. Today, we face an epidemic of prescription drugs—powerful narcotics that many students mistakenly believe are safe because they come from a pharmacy. In reality, these drugs are just as deadly as street drugs, like heroin, if not taken as prescribed. Other problems, like bullying, are also growing worse: far too often these days, we see incidents of bullying and harassment boil over into tragedies in our schools. Simply put, being a good kid is getting harder and harder.
We make it a point to celebrate athletic achievement and academic achievement—and we should. But too often, we fail to celebrate students who are just plain good kids. That’s why, three years ago, my office started a program called Ambassadors for Justice. I got in touch with all the high school principals in my district and asked them to designate juniors from their schools as Ambassadors for Justice. The title Ambassador for Justice recognizes a student’s devotion to justice, citizenship and serving others—to being a good kid and a good influence on those around them.
There is no requirement that the student chosen be the class president or the most popular (although they certainly can be). Rather, I asked principals to identify students with outstanding character and strong ethical compasses; students who are respected by their peers; students who will speak up if a classmate makes a self-destructive choice or bullies someone else. Being recognized as an Ambassador for Justice is not just an award or certificate. The program’s goal is to encourage students to stay the course and keep contributing to their schools and communities by doing the right thing every day—even when no one else is watching.
Every year, a new group of Ambassadors for Justice is recognized in a ceremony held in Charleston. After the ceremony, the Ambassadors are brought together to talk about the hurdles facing teenagers in today’s world, and to share ideas about how to overcome them. The first group of Ambassadors comprised 40 students from all around southern West Virginia, and the second group grew to 57. This year, I was honored to collaborate with my friend, Bill Ihlenfeld, the United States Attorney in the Northern District of West Virginia. Together, Bill and I honored 88 Ambassadors for Justice chosen from the entire State of West Virginia. To see this year’s class of Ambassadors, along with individual pictures of those who were able to attend the March 12, 2014 ceremony in Charleston, you can visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/wvs/AforJ.html.
Every time I meet with these remarkable young people, I come away inspired. It’s easy to be cynical about teenagers, but these students bring the Golden Rule to life. They look out for classmates who are having trouble, whatever it may be, and they stand up for those who can’t defend themselves. They are bright, thoughtful, and committed to improving their schools, their state, and their country. I’m honored to be able to support them, and I hope this program will remind others of the importance of building character in our kids. It doesn’t take much to get involved: Just keep an eye out for young people like these Ambassadors for Justice, who do the right thing even when it’s hard, and let them know you’ve noticed their good deeds. Remind your kids and grandkids that we should always do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Together, we can do much more than you think to keep old-fashioned values alive and well in our schools and our communities.