Posts Tagged ‘Under-served youth’
Thanks to Scotland Squad member Zack for this write – up of the Port Austin Kayak Symposium!
Recently I went to the Port Austin Symposium. The first time I’ve been, and I was assisting as a coach for the kids program. Now, that may not seem like a lot to the more veteran members of the paddling community, but let me paint a picture. I am an 18 year old black boy, unfortunately when I smile I look even younger, and trust me, I smile a lot. Point is, you don’t see people that look like me often.
It’s often a glaringly obvious fact when I arrive that there aren’t many people like me present. However, this doesn’t make me sad. Okay, it does a little bit. But more than that, it makes me determined. Because to diversify the paddling community, with youth as well as race, would be to revitalize it. To make it more inclusive.
Working with the kids there showed me the kind of an impact I could have. I thought my biggest challenge that day would be getting all of the kids to wear sunscreen, or handling any temper tantrums on the water, of which there were many. Then came an hour or two into the symposium. I learned that there would be a group of kids coming in from Detroit, and that myself and another CAT PC youth, Tiara, would be coaching them.
This group of kids had a 4 hour drive, and were navigating through traffic. So they would arrive around lunch. The rest of the morning session went fine, with an eventful attempt on our lives by a rogue mother seagull. Right before lunch Andrea arrived to tell Tiara and I that the Detroit group had arrived.
That group happened to be comprised of 5 young black boys, and two black women. I’m generally extremely apprehensive when meeting new people, and Tiara immediately announcing, “Let’s go introduce ourselves” of course didn’t help. But then I remembered my first symposium, and how besides our CAT group, there weren’t many people like me there. So I bucked up and walked over. That was literally the best decision I had made that whole Symposium.
Tiara and I went on to take that group through the motions of kayaking, from gearing up, chowing down, and then paddling out. We taught them proper technique, took them on a little tour around the breakwall, and then brought them back with some good old fashioned rescues, my specialty. I slowly realized that my biggest challenges were gonna be getting them to all wear sunscreen, but this time there was only one temper tantrum. By the end, we had completely exhausted these enthusiastic boys, and I feel they were better off for having known us. Which is really all you can say sometimes.
The next day I officially met Rowland Woollven. In his morning class, during the introduction, the funniest thing happened. Everyone was going around introducing themselves and their paddling experience. All these well traveled people boasting 35 years paddling, but only 9 seriously, that sort of thing. And then they get to me. “I’ll have been paddling for a year on July 14th”. Then came the giggles. And I understand, my experience paled in comparison. Or so I thought. Until Rowland clapped me on the back and then announced, “What he forgot to mention was that he’s a coach”. And the giggling stopped.
Over the course of the day I realized that I was better off having known Rowland Woollven. And John Carmody, who assessed my Level 1 Coaching. And Phil Hadley, who assessed my Level 1 Coaching and my FSRT. And honestly, Andrea Knepper, who puts so much work and dedication into helping me achieve my goals in paddling. Who I wouldn’t be going to Scotland without, and frankly I wouldn’t want to.
“Travel is fatal to bigotry.”
I bet we all have a half dozen or more inspiring – and true – quotes about travel.
When I was just out of college, working a stipend volunteer job and living in community with others in the same program, there was one person in our apartment who was NOT straight out of college. She had just completed two years in the Peace Corps, living overseas. In the year we lived together, I was continually struck by how much broader her understanding of the world was than the rest of ours.
Travel changes us. It challenges us. It makes us grow.
It’s a formative experience for youth and young adults. Its impact on them – on us – stays with us throughout our lives.
So we’re beyond pleased to be planning two different international CAT trips this year.
But travel, as we know, can also be stressful. The details can be challenging.
When we travel with CAT, we come across details that stop us in our tracks. The challenges to travel that our young people encounter are mind-boggling to me.
One young man flew with no photo ID. He went to the airport with us in the full knowledge that he might not be able to fly. (For those who are wondering – he was a legal adult.) This young man was homeless, and like many homeless people, the ID he’d worked hard to acquire got lost. He had two State IDs (we didn’t ask how that happened…) One was lost when his bag was stolen, and the other was lost when the bag that it was in, that he’d stored for safe keeping at the place of a friend who had an apartment through a housing program, was lent out to someone else, its contents emptied and subsequently lost. This young man discovered that both IDs were missing the day before we were flying – so we looked up what to do if you don’t have photo ID, and he went to the airport equipped with his birth certificate, his social security card, and his high school diploma. He had to go through additional security, but he joined us on our trip.
Anther young man planned to join us on an international trip, so we helped him get a passport. We sent in all the required documents, including State ID and birth certificate. His application was denied – on the grounds that his State ID was issued too recently. — Yes, you read that right – his ID was issued too recently. It gets more bizarre – they told us that he needed to present five valid forms of ID, all at least five years old. It did cross my mind that in the State of Illinois, a Drivers License wouldn’t work as one of these forms of ID, because they expire in four years… We scrambled, and got it figured out, and this young man came on the trip.
Twice we’ve had young people whose tickets we’ve bought – and then they got work that didn’t allow them to come on the trip. One young man was offered a job on the spot at a job fair. The job was retail, and the orientation was the next week, in the middle of our trip. They wouldn’t let him attend a different orientation – if he couldn’t make that one, he didn’t have the job. I’ve applied for jobs, with limited vacation time that didn’t accrue until Id’ been there a while, with vacation already on my schedule. In the middle class and white collar world, you tell your potential employer about the trip, and it’s usually not a problem. You might have to take unpaid time – but it doesn’t preclude employment. Sadly, this young man was not able to go on the trip he’d spent five months helping to plan, learning about navigation, tides, currents and trip planning in order to do it.
Perhaps the most perplexing obstacle was when we had a young person whose date of birth is unknown. It’s true – we have three different years of birth for her. This young person was 17 years old when we met her. When we celebrated her birthday 7 months later, she was turning 17 years old. We asked her for her date of birth and made ticket reservations with that information, only to discover that the date of birth on her ID doesn’t match EITHER of the ages she gave us… And our reservation was made with a date of birth that WASN’T the one on her ID…
Traveling with a transgender young person also presents challenges. We had to make sure we knew their names and gender on their ID, neither of which match the person we know. We had to publicly and officially mis-gender them in order for them to be able to travel. And we have to be prepared to advocate for them at the airport – there’s documented evidence of a trend of harassment towards transgender people at airport security.
Every time we plan a trip, we’re caught up short by challenges that our young people encounter. Still, travel is valuable enough that we put in the work to figure it out. And we almost always do.
In the midst of a very cold winter in Chicago, we just completed what might be my most favorite CAT program in our six years of programming.
We met Fred and Greg* in July in the Gitchi Gumee Project – a group of 20 who went to the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in July. They came to us from The Night Ministry, one of our partner organizations that works with street-based youth. They’ve both faced tremendous challenges and obstacles. But here’s the thing – one of the things that gets my hackles up, and can set off a very LONG stint on my personal soap box, is when we, as well-meaning adults with privilege, see our youth first through the lens of the obstacles they face. Being in a program can pigeonhole how other people see them – they’re “Homeless” first; they’re “Gang-Bangers;” children of immigrants, they’re “Illegal;” they’re “Bipolar” or “ADHD” or HIV-Postive.” [* Fred and Greg have given their permission to use their real names]
In San Fransisco last week, at the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium, things went down differently. A few of my fellow coaches were jealous of me because I get to call these two guys my students.
- They were jealous because Fred and Greg have some of the GREATEST attitudes in the world! They both capsized – well, they capsized more than most of the students – and they both just jumped right back in the boats, even more energized and motivated than before they dumped.
- With backgrounds in gymnastics and dance, coupled with great fitness levels and a lot of physical strength, Fred and Greg have more natural ability than most paddling students we as coaches come across. This fact was not lost on my fellow coaches.
- They both have an uncanny ability to take direction. With that huge natural talent they have, matched by a huge desire to learn more, they soak up every last suggestion, tip and challenge. They’re eminently “coachable.”
This is what strengths-based youth development is about. It’s about strength, not deficit; about ability, not obstacle; about opportunity, not compensation for poverty, diagnosis, oppression or flat-out bad luck.
When I had the great good fortune to spend a month paddling on the West Coast a year ago, it changed me. It also changed the way I think about CAT programming. Taking our young peoples’ strengths seriously means that we have to challenge them. We have to give them the type of challenge that they can meet – but not ace 100%. Challenge that demands the very best of what they have to bring to it, and leaves them with so much still to work on. For some of our young people, this means climbing to the top of the climbing wall in the gym, or climbing half-way up, or one body length up the wall. For some, it means sleeping in a tent. For some, it means paddling “out the Gate” in San Fransisco Bay, learning to peel out and eddy in at Yellow Bluff (a tide race that “goes off” on the ebb tide in the Bay), or getting worked in a rock gardening class or in waves that they eventually learn to surf… It means preparing to teach and lead other young people.
It means challenging them to share what they’ve gained with others. Fred and Greg are grateful for the experience. Truly, it breaks my heart just a little bit how often I hear them say “thank you for believing in us.” Or “I can’t believe we got to do this.” Or “thank you for giving us these opportunities. We would never get to do this.”
If it stops at gratitude, they are still those young men who face such great obstacles. “At-risk kids” who don’t have access to the resources that so many kids do.
If they are deeply grateful for the experience, and use it to bring their very best to bear on the world – then they are young men with amazing strength and amazing skills that will change the world. They are not “disadvantaged youth.” Rather, they are powerful agents of change; a force for good that we ignore at our own, and the world’s, peril.
After my own time paddling on the West Coast, I look at CAT programming with an eye towards how it will empower our young people to change the world. What can we give them; and also, what will they give back. They will do so much more for this world than ever I will. To do it they have to know that they are not “at-risk kids,” but amazing young adults with so much to offer the world.
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. Even the best lawyers cannot 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.
• This program shows the power of outdoor activities to motivate, to challenge, and to open up lines of communication in children from various backgrounds. To see the shy and introverted smile and show excitement and self-confidence, the normally self-centered helping others, or one afraid of water rolling three days later…wow, what a feeling. (Chris Delridge, Riverside Kayak Connection)
• I was not sure what I’d expected being with the kids from CAT and Detroit. What I found was that these kids were some of the most delightful, thankful, and appreciative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being with. The benefit I believe they received from the project this year was immense. I saw huge gains in self confidence, skill, problem solving, and reaching out to other people. This
project has got to go on and expand way beyond it’s current state. (Jim Palermo, West Michigan Coastal Kayak Association)
“I was a little reluctant to work with the program at first. I’m more comfortable with adults than I am with teens. However they told me there was a need for an adult female role model so I agreed. How wrong I was. Those kids were amazing to the point where I came close to tears several times. Days later I am still re-living it and sharing the story of the impact those amazing kids had on me. Sign me up for next year.
The young people and all of the adults with us were pleased, and the young people were surprised, at the very warm welcome our whole group received. It would have been easy for them to meet with condescending or patronizing attitudes. They all noticed that there was very little racial
diversity among the rest of the symposium’s attendees. That could have ended up being a very uncomfortable position for them – either because they weren’t genuinely welcome and were treated with suspicion; or because people could have been overly enchanted with them precisely because of their race. What happened instead was that this community welcomed them with open arms. They remembered our youth from one class to the next. Coaches and other students alike treated our young people with respect and warmth, and gave them the very best they had to give.
welcomed a 14 year old into their circle and facilitated my paddling in a way that would have been impossible without them. What I do now – training and communication with specialties in risk management, decision making, and leadership for both the healthcare and aviation industries – is directly descended from what they taught me on the water 20-some years ago.
I’d like to give that back in some way. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you or the kids. I’d very much like to see them come back. The GLSKS is a magical thing for teenagers.
• Feb 7-9, 2014 – full group ice climbing in the UP with Bill and Arnie of Down Wind Sports?
definitely coming back for more. Thank you guys.” — age 15, DeKalb, Illinois
2013 Gitche Gumee Project!
GITCHI GUMEE PROJECT PARTNERS
building and problem-solving, among others, and these skills then transfer to their everyday lives.