I mentioned it once before but just in case it didn’t get to everyone, I work in a school. It’s a nontraditional school and something that I love about it, is the amount of freedom that I have there. I’m able to pull students out of class to meet with them, access tons of information and (the part that led to this post) I’m able to sit in on classes whenever I want.
Sitting in on a high school class may not sound that exciting to you but when you have a group like Youth on Record facilitating in your school, I promise you that class becomes way more appealing. Youth on Record is a program that believes that all young people, even those who are at risk or have been written off, have the potential to turn their lives around. Youth on Record works with what they call culturally relevant artists around Denver and use them to reach students and help them to transition to college, the workforce and advanced technical training.
The reason why I wanted to sit in on the class is because every single day at about 1:25, I walk by their room and I hear rap music and a very passionate voice leading the discussion. I don’t know about you but rap music isn’t usually my thing but I’m ALWAYS interested in talking to someone who is passionate about it. Also, anyone who uses rap music in a school day lesson is definitely a person that I want to interact with.
So on Wednesday, I made it my mission to experience the Youth on Record magic. When I walked into the classroom I was met by two African American men leading the group…one tall with curly hair peeking out of fitted hat and the other slightly shorter, moderately tattooed with a welcoming smile hiding behind a full beard. If you know me at all, you know that I was sold the moment I saw them. These guys oozed sincerity and a grounded coolness that I think most kids don’t experience from their teachers.
Notebook in hand and a dorky grin on my face, I asked if I could sit in on the class and they both eagerly said “of course.” They started the class with a story from Greek mythology about destiny. They explained with the illustration that at times your circumstances may try and stand in your way but if you’re committed if you’re invested, you can still reach your full potential and achieve your destiny.
As they concluded the story they gave the class a prompt to write about and encouraged them to be honest with themselves and write from the heart. I initially only intended to observe but the prompt intrigued me so much that I had to participate. They asked us “How do you differ from the stereotype that you’re supposed to be?” So essentially, how do we intentionally or even unintentionally break the stereotypes that are associated with our gender, race, sexuality, nationality and even economic background in our everyday life?
They gave us about twenty minutes or so to write and then asked the class to share. Most of the stories that were shared, by the kids that I have the pleasure of working with, were stories of pain and loss, mistakes and failures. The stories were filled with times where they 100% met the stereotypes that they were associated with despite their initial desires to DO and BE more. Though they're only high school students their stories shared moments of heartbreak and discouragement that most adults will never experience.
As I sat and listened to their stories, I was ashamed by the thought that maybe my perception of them has been skewed by stereotypes. I do my best to come in everyday with a heart full of love for each and every single student that I work with. With that being said, I can’t help but to think that maybe I would treat them differently if I had no preconceived notions or ideas about who they are and the mistakes they’ve made.
This weekend I plan to really examine my heart and what it's filled with. I want to explore it and sit with it and determine if the things inside of me give room for people to show me who they are despite what they look like or the mistakes they've made. I want to give people the same room to be themselves and to break stereotypes and assumptions, that I would hope that they would give me.
So I guess the point I’m trying to make with all of this is that no one is JUST a “punk” or a “bad kid” there’s always something more to the story always another layer to them. I encourage you to examine yourself the next time you pass a homeless person, or a kid with their pants below their butt or a girl with “slutty” clothes on, what are your initial thoughts of them and where they come from? If you took the time to sit and talk with them would those thoughts hold any weight?
Until next time gang. XXOXOXX