I have a severe case of job whiplash (a general life whiplash, to be honest). It isn’t a bad thing. It just is what it is. I took a job at a non-profit arts organization that offers art and workforce readiness programming for at-risk/court-involved youth. So, I basically went from spending all day with the sweetest baby girls to juvenile delinquents. I went from nursery rhymes and pre-school pick up to court rooms and gangster rap. It’s been a weird transition. But hey… I’m excited to have a job in my field! I love what the organization does and am excited about the summer programming possibilities/opportunities. I believe so passionately in the transformative power of art and am driven to see these kids achieve their best in ways that are dignified and fulfilling. I’m honored to be a support, an advocate, a cheerleader.
Granted, I’m only two weeks into this job, so maybe I’m over analyzing all of this…but here’s what’s going on in my head and heart:
I’m just a nice, fairly quiet, middle-class, small town, white girl. I don’t know what its like to grow up in foster care or be initiated into a gang when you’re 6. I don’t know what its like to see your brother get shot or to shoot someone else’s brother. I don’t know what its like to live in fear of getting jumped. I don’t know what its like to have parents addicted to drugs. I don’t know what its like to runaway from home. I don’t know what its like to get arrested. I don’t know what its like to hold so much anger and hate in my body. I don’t know what its like to always be in trouble. I don’t know what its like to have a .1 GPA. I don’t know what its like to experience racism. I don’t know what its like to be really poor.
And I feel guilty for all of that. For the sake of bonding, relating, understanding, being influential, etc…I wish I shared in the experiences. It’s strange to be in an environment where being myself feels hard and awkward. It baffles me how insecure teenagers can make me feel about myself haha isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?
“You just don’t get it.” Truth. I don’t. I can’t. But I want to. Is that enough? Or are the all the words from my lips going to be discredited? Will my be attempts at being genuinely interested and invested roll off your shoulders?
“That’s impossible.” I believe that there are ways out of tough situations but maybe that’s because I’ve been afforded options and opportunities my whole life. I believe you can overcome addiction, but maybe that’s because I’ve never had one. I believe you can stop cycles of violence, but maybe that’s because I’ve read a lot about achieving peace.
“I can’t change it.” I think part of every egocentric high-schooler is the inability to see or imagine beyond what is right in front of them. I know I’ve been there before. That said, it has been amazing to me to see how much power the past seems to hold for them. The belief that your past not only influences, but dictates your future. The belief that the past is a much stronger force than the present. Obviously there is a lot about our pasts we didn’t have control of: where we were born, who are parents were, our social and economic status, how we were raised, what we saw and what was done to us as children, etc. There are uncontrollable factors that set us up on involuntary trajectories. Yet, I just have such a hard time believing that the past robs us of change, if we want it badly enough. I might not “get” where they’ve been or what they’ve done, but I want them to look where they’re going. And I feel like I need to expect things from them. You know, bigger, better, brighter things. I don’t know the cost/benefit analysis of something like leaving a gang. I don’t know how difficult it is to jump through systems. Everything is easier said than done, I know. Maybe change or doing the “right” thing means taking a beating or lots of beatings, or losing family, or moving away from everything you know.
Cue: City High ‘What Would You Do’
I’m constantly picking apart every interaction and they probably couldn’t care less. C’est la vie.
In summary: I don’t know anyyythiiinnngggg. But whatever, tough kids…
I’m just going to be there. To help you apply for jobs. To ask you about how you’re going to achieve your goals. To tell judges that you’re involved in something good. To draw next to you. To listen to your free-styles. To read your poems. To be proud of you. I’m going to love you to pieces (but honestly, I will probably never love dirty south rappers or your Nicki Minaj art collages).
Without further ado…here is a piece written by one of the students during a free-writing activity we led at the detention center last week. Juvie Jamz might make a semi-regular blog appearance:
“I come from drugs
Where every nigga’ round me gettin’ mugged
Where people catchin’ feelings trynna get snug
When girls in your ear listen to your convos like they planted a bug
Where to the West, them white girls got their Columbias and Uggs
Where sleepin’ under the bridge is better than sleepin’ in the mud
Little girls go from tots to thoughts and every nigga you see endin’ up on the Block”