Last Friday was the first of the weekly Jackson Free Press summer intern workshops. With more than a dozen people stuffed into our classroom around the long stretch of tables, Editor-in-Chief Donna Ladd led a spirited discussion centered around the hopes and dreams of a talented group of young people.
What one thing would you change about the world if you could, Donna asked the group. The answers ranged from irreverent ("More ice cream!") to expansive ("Open minds"). What struck me, as one-by-one, each intern spoke about his or her deepest wish for a better world, was the way the group rejected America's current trend of divisiveness. Over and over again, themes of equality and openness came up. Make education equally available to all, one said, echoed by another's wish to make art accessible to everyone regardless of social status. Acceptance of all people, said a third, and two said they want to open minds. One wants simply to tell the untold stories.
Every summer, the JFP offices fairly vibrate with the energy and enthusiasm of young people eager to make their mark on the world. With the long, hot summer stretching ahead of them without high-school or college classes, restlessly unsatisfied by their current situation and eager to learn new skills, they bring with them an unfettered optimism that they are capable of changing the world they have inherited. The common vehicle they have chosen is to observe and write about it.
They never fail to inspire me to be a better version of myself.
Looking back over the dozens of interns we have coached and coddled and prodded to become better observers and writers, I don't have any illusions that our job--nurturing, teaching and providing worthwhile subjects to keep them engaged and interested--is easy. It isn't. My grown-up and hard-bitten cynicism about how the world "really" works makes for an often uneasy balance. But their presence brings me back to a time when my own fragile optimism was fresh and vital, not scarred by disappointments, the status quo and the realization that the world isn't concerned much about what I want.
Most of our interns have never lived in a world without the Internet and access to quick, easy answers. They are survivors of an educational system more concerned about test scores than the ability to reason and think critically. At a superficial level, some probably see their internship as little more than a potentially valuable addition to already hefty resumes of academic achievement; a check mark on the road toward better college careers and jobs and more money. In that, they're right; this experience will figure into all of those things, hopefully for the better.
What will perhaps surprise many is that they find rewarding challenges despite the fact that they won't get a grade or walk across a stage to get their gold star of achievement at the end of their time here. Those who already possess a way with words will get a lot of opportunity to make even seemingly mundane subjects engaging and interesting. If they already have confidence and people skills, we will challenge them to reach deeper and develop their empathy and understanding of what motivates others. If they have tasted working and making their way in this world, we'll hold them to higher standards of professionalism.
As their coaches, they will change and teach us as well. For my part, it is what makes it all worthwhile. They will challenge me to think beyond my knee-jerk reactions and have me struggling to reach each of them as individuals and not part of a ubiquitous source of content and fact-checking. I'm committed that no one slips through the cracks of this experience and each of them leaves us with their determination and enthusiasm for telling stories well tested and strengthened.
Like many creative endeavors, we will teach them that writing isn't some mysterious undertaking, but a process that they can count on for expressing their truths. During last Friday's workshop, they agreed on a group mission statement for the summer: "Creating awareness through greater community exposure." I believe they understand that waking people up to reality takes work. Those untold stories will remain untold without someone digging them out. They're up to the challenge, they said, by writing, understanding, changing--that's how they'll get the job done.
What this group has in common with their peers is that they find it unacceptable to live in a divisive, violent world. Deep in their souls, they instinctively know that it's up to them to find and lead the world to a better way. And across the board, they see that the way their forebears have split the world--us versus them, indiscriminately using up everything at their disposal--doesn't solve anything.
They hold in their hands the means to make lasting inroads to equality and greater understanding. They mean to make their mark, not to further divide, but to bring people together through knowledge. They are truth-seekers and truth-tellers. How can anyone not be inspired by that?
Perhaps I'm putting too much on this particular group of go-getters. I'm not so sure. They have plenty of good humor and energy to put into their hero's quest. Their deceptively simply motto--"The world is not ice cream, but it could be"--is as clear as glass and as deep as a well. This life isn't easy--they know that--but suffering about it is a choice.
Out of the mouths of babes, they melt and heal my heart. Their enthusiasm for change and eagerness to dig into all of the hard work that entails astounds me.
This summer is shaping up to be a lot more than hot and humid. Be prepared to embrace a little greatness.
This article has inspired _me_ to be a better version of _my_self, so thanks for that, Ronni.
- Sara Anderson