Many of my experiences this week seemed unrelated, but in my reflective moments I found common threads:
1. Communities rely heavily on our youth to lead without adequate support of the grown folks around them.
2. Young people need grown folks to support them with less judgment.
3. Grown folks need to remain in conversations and challenging moments to not only support, but to encourage and guide the young ones burdened by challenging circumstances.
4. Young people are battle worn from sustained work in the trenches managing issues at home, at school, and in their communities.
A great deal of my time as a university administrator has been spent managing students who reported being in the midst of challenges. Sometimes they were challenged by their own decision making and other times their challenges came courtesy of others. I wondered how much challenge one must endure before asking for help. I began to think about some of my troubled students as shadow dwellers like me. In most cases, the students did not walk around announcing their circumstances. Attention to their challenges came to my office through phone calls, emails, or in person visits ignited by some “final straw” incident. Hence, my categorizing them as shadow dwellers.
The reports described students who were caretakers of parents or siblings. Other students discussed the burdens that accompanied a charge to lead people. In the private, safe space provided in my office, students revealed the vulnerability that makes us human. In my opinion, the connectedness to humanity compelled them to reveal the levels of transparency that I witnessed. During my time with the young and challenged, I saw glimpses of myself tired of feeling like I was in the solo performance of my life responsible for the success of myself, my family, my community, or all of the above. It was clear to me that these students strove to overcome what felt like multiple encounters with failure. They believed that exerting energy for the improvment of their circumstances or the elimination of the subject of their stress failed to produce the desired outcomes. As a result, the drained students appeared exhausted by life. They presented with a hopeless spirit, gasping for life yielding breath. These students wanted more than anything peace of mind, peace in their spirits, and a peace to be present at all times in their own spaces.
Weighted by the heaviness of their hearts which was compounded by their fatigued minds and weary bodies they cried out, “”Who will take care of me?” Having lived in that energy sucking space, I recognized the symptoms. I also knew that the person who carried the challenges long enough alone would exhale a sign of relief and gratitude when someone intervened and offered to assist them. Stepping in to alleviate the pressure on a young person who has been leading others through challenges gave them that feeling one gets when the physician in the triage can quickly look beyond your stated symptoms to see the true extent of your ailment then offers a prompt diagnosis and plan of care to save you from another moment of agony. Acknowledgement of the back-breaking, knee-bending heaviness of one’s life in my presence has always signaled to me that I am trusted. In general, young people older than eleven have reserved their trust for a select group of folks. So, if you have had a young person share stories with you and disclose a need for support, consider yourself blessed and trusted too.
Yesterday, as I hurried to a meeting on campus, I was stopped by a member of a campus department who worked to organize an event that welcomed The Inside Out Project to our campus. It’s been a long, busy week so I skipped some emails and one of the emails I skipped contained news about this event. So, I while I should have known about it, the first I heard about it was during this “chance” encounter with an event organizer. I promised her that if my meeting ended in the next forty-five minutes I would return and take the picture. At the time, I thought that my participation was only in support of our undocumented community members and the concerns of the dreamers amongst us. Life gave me yet another opportunity to support students dealing with challenges that could potentially alter the direction of their personal, academic, and professional lives. Here were other students in their own way speaking rhetorically to the universe asking, “Who will care for us?”
After researching The Inside Out Project, I owned a thankful heart. This global movement to let art change people speaks to the reason that I do the things I do in support of challenged young people looking for someone to care for them. The studio, reminiscent of a food truck, created art in seconds. Each work of art engineered smiles and a parade of heartwarming images. It became clear to me that when I get to support students in moments of challenge I am an artist. I am required to use creativity and positive energy coupled with analytical, innovative, professional skills sets to help young people look beyond their challenges to compose a beautiful script.
It is my hope that those who read this post will consider how their gifts might be used to support the next young person they see who either vocalizes their challenge or who has an obvious one. I challenge my readers to offer support before judgment. Sometimes I think that young people don’t receive the support they should receive because grown folks are scarred and somehow ascribe to the notion that bearing the weights of family and community are rites of passage. Believe me the “rites of passage” are not and should not be used as excuses to force our young to lead in areas in which they should be excluded or supported by the adult villagers around them. There should be no children in our villages looking around wondering who will take care of them.