Posts Tagged ‘gang-involved youth’
A man who, as our own President said a few hours later, “took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”
As photos and news stories, quotes and tributes began to fill the internet, I, like many others, found myself looking at memories.
And then, an interesting thing started to happen. A few articles started to appear that said, essentially, “let’s remember ALL of history.” Let’s remember Nelson Mandela’s full story. Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years because justice does not come easily. Equality does not arrive on its own.
For many of us of a certain age, Nelson Mandela may have been the person who was the impetus for some of our first forays into political action. A friend reminisced about avoiding Coca Cola products in high school and college, as part of the boycotts of corporations invested in South Africa. In 8th grade, I added a “Divest Now” button to my store of political buttons. We boycotted and called for divestment because our own country was fully complicit in practices and policies that upheld Apartheid.
People – whether individuals, countries or corporations – rarely give up privilege, convenience or wealth voluntarily. And so Mandela, a Freedom Fighter, was a prisoner before he was the President; he was dubbed a “terrorist” before he was honored as a “statesman.”
I was reminded of how much easier it is to claim heroes as our own after they have “won” than while they are fighting. Had Nelson Mandela died in the 1960’s or the 1980’s, at the beginning and in the midst of his struggle for justice and for equality in South Africa, few Americans and few American organizations would have paid tribute to him the way we did yesterday. To stand resolutely for justice when it is not yet the law of the land takes a courage, perseverance and vision that few people have. And it requires risking more than most of us are willing to risk.
Whatever the challenge, whatever the risk – our kids in Chicago need us to summon some small piece of Nelson Mandela’s vision; some fraction of his courage; and as much perseverance as we possibly can. Our kids are not just “making bad decisions.” They are struggling mightily in situations stacked against them.
• Some of the kids we work with grow up with no examples of options beyond the gangs that dominate their neighborhood
• Some of the kids we work with are thrown out of their homes in adolescence because of their sexual orientation or gender expression
• Some of the kids we work with come from families without the money for college, and have no access to financial aid or to military service – both of which sometimes provide access to college for kids who can’t afford it – because they are not citizens
• Most of the kids we work with live in poverty
• Most of the kids we work with experience systemic racism every day
These are questions of justice. We want to help our kids make good decisions, develop positive self-esteem, learn solid problem-solving skills, become good team members and communicators. But this is not enough. Our kids need justice. They need equal access to a solid education, to the resources of this city, to not just adequate but good health care. The list goes on…
Yesterday, President Obama said “His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings—& countries—can change for the better.” We share Obama’s words with you today in the hope that our own country, and our own City, can change for the better.
“The day…he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when…guided by their hopes rather than…fears.” At CAT, we hope to have the courage and the vision to stand for justice now, when our kids need us to. When, in this city, it is not yet easy.
What our kids can do, when guided by hopes, not fears, will be something to stand back and watch. Because we work with some of the most amazing young people in this city – and we’ve seen what they can do when they walk past their fears.
December 15, 2012
I expect that you, like me, are reeling from the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday. Whether it hit you in the gut as you heard the awful news, or took a day to settle in, the enormity of the tragedy is unavoidable.
In the midst of the grief, powerlessness, anger and despair, I did what I often do.
I went paddling.
I went paddling to find silence, perhaps solace, to remember that in the midst of horror and tragedy that we are powerless to fix, the world is also a good place.
It did not lessen the grief, the anger, the despair. It did — whether because it brought me back to myself; because it let me feel my own strength in my arms, my core, my legs; because it offered perspective — it did lessen my feeling of powerlessness.
Paddling today brought me back to myself. I’ve watched it do the same for our kids. One young man last summer showed up to a paddling program angry with the world and refusing to participate. He eventually agreed to paddle in a double kayak with one of the program’s mentors, and got into the boat with a scowl. As we were paddling back an hour and a half later he told me that he had lost something. I didn’t hear what he had lost. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear. What did you lose?” -Did he lose a water bottle? -A flip flop? -Just don’t let it be a pair of glasses!
“I lost my anger.”
As it did for me today, paddling brought this young man back to himself.
I am powerless to fix the horror and the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday, or the violence on the streets of Chicago every night, or the abuse or oppression that so many of our young people face every day.
What I CAN do is to work with our Chicago young people. I can help them lose their anger. It is my small contribution to making the world safer for our kids. It feels insignificant in the face of 20 kids dead. Nonetheless it is what I can do.
I invite you
– encourage you
– to join me in making one small contribution to making the world safer for our kids.
- Some of us will hold our kids a little bit tighter and a little bit longer.
- Some of us will advocate for stronger gun laws, better access to mental health services or increased funding for human services.
- Some of us will pray, whether alone or with others.
- Some of us will spread messages of hope on our Facebook pages or Twitter feeds.
- Some of us will work to get the economy of this nation back on track.
- Some of us will make sure that we tell our friends, our family, our kids, our spouses that we love them. We will make more time to be with them.
– what will remind you of what your small contribution to a safer world for our kids will be.
- Your contribution will be small.
- It will feel insignificant in the face of 20 kids dead, with 6 adults who loved them.
- It will make a difference.
Your contribution, whatever it is, will join mine. They will join the contributions of the other 1,265 people who will receive this note via email or see it posted on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.
1,267 people each doing one small thing will make the world safer for our kids
If one small thing for you includes a donation to Chicago Adventure Therapy, I promise you that it will make a difference.
This week I want to tell you about “Rico,” a young man in the same gang prevention group as Humberto.
- He’s got a great sense of humor, that’s frequently slightly mocking of us, the CAT staff.
- He’s really smart.
- He’s not afraid to call us out when we say something or act in a way that’s not quite right. Which is not to say that our staff is inappropriate – but when we work every day with people who live in a world pretty different from us, we sometimes say things that are offesnsive when we have no intention of doing that. I think it takes a lot of courage and poise for a young person to call out an adult in a position of authority, and to do it appropriately and with humor.
- He’s willing to try almost anything; even when it makes him nervous.
- He’s got remarkable people skills.
- He’s a natural and graceful leader – I have much that I can learn from him.
- I love his enthusiasm for the technical pieces of sea kayaking – “Rico” and I are kindred spirits when it comes to paddling.
- how he helped one of the mentors with his program on our camping trip: She was terrified of heights, to the point of tears and hyperventilation. “Rico” went back down the trail, sat with her, talked with her, and then walked back up the trail slowly right in front of her so she could watch his feet, and make it up the trail.
- how he used his own experience to encourage his peers: On the first paddling program, he challenged me about whether the life jacket would work. When I told him it would float him, he eventually told me “I don’t believe you.” He was the first to capsize that day, and flailed around a lot in the water – until he realized he was standing… The next week I asked him to help a new paddler with his life jacket. “Rico” said “You have to make it tight. Otherwise if you fall in, it’s gonna float up here (indicating his forhead) and it’s not gonna help you. And you have to stay still. If you move around it’s gonna get in your way. You have to be still and it will work.”
- how he worked hard to get his roll: He was scared to put his face in the water; but ended the summer so close to a roll that all the help he needed was a slight push on the boat with one finger. (If you don’t know what a roll is – it’s when you sit in a kayak, turn it upside down, and then bring it right side up again while you’re in it. It’s not in fact difficult to do, but it can be very difficult to learn.)
- how he calls it as he sees it: I was a little bit surprised when he told me that at the beginning of the summer I “talked like a rich person” but that now I talked “more normal.” I was surprised again when I called out one of his peers for mocking us, thinking we weren’t getting it, during a serious discussion. “Rico” grinned and said “you’re starting to understand us.”