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Kids Are Not the Problem (Part II)

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

By Linda Sheridan, 2019.03.22

Reading graffiti writing in dugouts, caverns and back alleyways, I discovered definitive phrases such as, "people don’t love you," "beat your kids with love,” as well as tributes to friends like, "Miss you Holmes." "Sorrow" could be found everywhere, and powerful exclamations like, "this is not a mistake" made claim to their self-worth, in essence saying, "I am not a mistake." Clever comments such as, “Sorry about your wall," and “Stop making stupid people famous” also stood out.

This tremendous undaunting need to express themselves against the oppressive feeling of innuendo and aggressive attacks leaves the viewer speechless, as well as breathless. It’s not the environment—it’s the projection that robs any individual of their dignity. And yet too many times, well-meaning adults will look to the parenting of youth and the starkness of poverty as that which triggers youth to commit crimes or enact undesirable behaviors. Nothing truly worthwhile can happen without seeing the innate value of oneself.

Certainly, the experiences youth encounter during adolescent development powerfully affect their sense of self but not nearly as strongly as the projection of titles used on youth such as “disadvantaged,” “at risk,” “troublesome,” “deprived,” “under-served,” “impoverished,” etc. What is left for youth with these burdens but to take what is not theirs, if only to compensate for having less than what evidently is normal for other youth.

Before training these youth for a specific trade or job skill, SDCAA has learned that if we help them connect to the value of who they are, they readily discover the gift they hold, and their path seems to unfold before them. The momentum from this discovery naturally propels these teens forward without pushing or cajoling.

An example: four years ago, a young man was working on a self-portrait in one of our classes, drawing away when I happened to cruise by. I asked him, “After you graduate from high school what do you plan for your life?” He answered that he would join his dad and be a plumber. Fast forward to today—he is still showing up for our after-school graffiti class, and he informs me that not only is he graduating from high school this year but he's signed up with the military to get a college education. He intends to become an FBI agent. There’s not a thing wrong with being a plumber. God knows they are extremely important and earn great incomes. But his new goal of becoming an FBI agent is proof that he expanded his horizons beyond the sole path he previously believed was open to him.

From this experience I have become more adamant in developing our program to begin by asking ourselves, “Who are these kids? What can we learn about them?” It has proven to be the strongest way to support them in realizing the gem that they are, and that their gift is a gift to all of us.

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