No Swear November cleans up language for a cause

Hazel Park High aims to break bad habits, benefit Youth Assistance

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published November 12, 2013

 A poster on the door to Hazel Park High teacher Eric Brodsky’s classroom proclaims this month as No Swear November. The schoolwide campaign to cut down on cussing will create a more positive atmosphere and help support Hazel Park Youth Assistance.

A poster on the door to Hazel Park High teacher Eric Brodsky’s classroom proclaims this month as No Swear November. The schoolwide campaign to cut down on cussing will create a more positive atmosphere and help support Hazel Park Youth Assistance.

Photo by Deb Jacques

HAZEL PARK — They say sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you. But in truth, the words you choose can erode the self-esteem of others, create a negative mood and make you look unpleasant and unprofessional — even if the words are empty, and there’s no ill intent.

Such is the message behind No Swear November. Eric Brodsky and Steve Morton, teachers at Hazel Park High, launched the campaign at the school to try and make students and adults more thoughtful about what they say and how they say it.

“It started with my 11-year-old daughter, Leah, who was honored by West Bloomfield Youth Assistance last May, for helping the special needs kids in her school,” Morton said. “She felt very honored and wanted to do something more, so at the dinner table, I asked her what, and she said she wanted to eliminate all bad words — swearing — and my wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘That’s a great idea — let’s start one month at a time.’”

Morton brought up the idea with Brodsky, with whom he’s been teaching at HPHS for 11 years now. Brodsky’s wife is in social media. Together, they brainstormed ways to turn Leah’s idea into something good for the community. Brodsky suggested teaming up with Hazel Park Youth Assistance, which celebrates its 60th year in 2013.

And No Swear November was born.

“The key being to not just create different words to avoid swearing but to create a more positive way of communicating,” Brodsky said. “As I tell my students, swearing makes them look less attractive as a person. There are ways to describe things that are more uplifting and positive and constructive, and when you do this, it makes for more attractive facial expressions and a more attractive presence.”

Pop culture has played a role in making swearing seem acceptable, noted Hazel Park resident Beverly Hinton, chairman of Hazel Park Youth Assistance.

“Kids say it becomes a habit,” Hinton said. “It’s all around us, in music and on TV. It’s something we live with nowadays. I think they’re really not conscious of it; it’s their generation, and it’s what they do. Swearing is like the new normal.”

Often, the words aren’t mean-spirited, she acknowledged, and used merely to “amplify” how someone is feeling. But they can still have a negative effect, she said, especially phrases like “that’s so gay,” physically disparaging remarks or casual use of language like the b-word, which can be diminishing to women.

No Swear November calls attention to all of this. The school is selling wristbands — bright red with yellow lettering, or yellow with red lettering — for $2 apiece, and “swear jars” for $5 apiece; swear jars can be used to collect donations in the jar, or you can pitch in a buck or two every time you catch yourself swearing. And all of the money raised goes to Youth Assistance.

“My swear jar is going in the car because that’s where I find I’ll use it most,” Hinton said with a laugh.

A number of businesses are also participating, including David’s Gold Medal Sports, Taylor’s Auto, Layback Lenny’s, Fairy Tale Flowers and Cozy Café. The swear jars are also available at Hazel Park Viking Ice Arena, the Recreation Center, City Hall and other local organizations.

Hazel Park Youth Assistance was founded in 1953 by Eugene Moore, a former Hazel Park judge, and Dr. Wilfred Webb, former superintendent for Hazel Park Public Schools. It was the first Youth Assistance in Oakland County; now, there are Youth Assistance groups all across Oakland County.

“Youth Assistance is a prevention program, rather than intervention or getting kids out of trouble after the fact, although there are some students we help in that manner,” Hinton said. 

Hazel Park Youth Assistance donates to Challenge Day, which focuses on breaking down barriers between kids by splitting them up into groups of kids from different social circles and engaging in exercises that teach them not to judge one another.

Hazel Park Youth Assistance also works on the high school’s Senior All-Night Party and the city’s Holiday Baskets. They hold two reading nights, for prekindergarten through third grade, for elementary school families at Hazel Park Junior High, with games and prizes that encourage routine reading.

Hazel Park Youth Assistance takes 10 kids shopping for new school clothes and supplies each year when school starts, and they provide so-called “skill-building scholarships” for kids interested in activities like football or gymnastics. One year, they helped a student go on a mission trip to Ecuador; they helped another student go to a leadership conference in Washington, D.C.; and another two went to the Michigan Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Academy, or M-STEM, at the University of Michigan.

Youth Recognition is another program spearheaded by Hazel Park Youth Assistance, recognizing students who volunteer because they want to — not for points through National Honor Society or anything else. 

The money raised by No Swear November benefits all of these causes, and its creators would like to see it catch on elsewhere.

“We’re hoping the Youth Assistance groups in other cities will pick up No Swear November, as well,” Morton said.

“I just think it’s so positive,” Hinton added. “Nobody has really taken on this issue before. It’s making everyone conscious of their words, their behavior and the effect it may have on others.”