Young people in Jackson are grieving this week- but you didn't see the reason for their grief on the breaking news when we lost another student to violence. In fact, all news sources in Jackson reported different information, and they asked questions that they probably won't bother to follow up on for the answers. Young people know their day-to-day world doesn't make breaking news.
Meanwhile, in breaking news, grown-ups want them to pull their pants up. I do, too, but it won't make those young people's issues go away. Don't we want to accept some responsibility in their lives as parents, educators, community members, reporters and any other label we wear as adults? The burden is not just on them, and no age or occupation guarantees exemption from the problem.
Our young people returned from spring break to take yet another state test, while their hearts were heavy, and there was no room for grief. "These kids" aren't as concerned as you are that their dead friend had previous "run-ins" with the law. They grieve a friend they knew from grade school, before life got so complicated. They miss their friend who sang in the church choir, who smiled no matter the circumstance and who, just like them, worried about a future.
I say "these kids," because they've heard it so much, more than "I love you," more than "You are doing a great job," and most importantly, more than "Do as I do and say, not just as I say."
Have we, as adults, obtained some type of amnesia that removes us from what it's like to be a teenager? Or are we so concerned with maintaining appearances that we can't admit that we made poor choices when we were young and needed direction? Do we remember asking "why" the world is like it is, or "how" do we handle the pressures all around us? Perhaps some of us were so blessed that we'll never understand. However, I think we mostly just don't want to accept responsibility that, like it or not, we are a part of the lives of "these kids", no matter who we are.
"These kids" are not a stereotype. They are teenagers with hopes, dreams and worries. They are name-called by those outside their community, but also by their leaders and caregivers. They hear the labels: stupid, lazy, sense of entitlement, thug and no-good. Some have decided it's just easier to be who you say they are.
"These kids" are young, with the emotional maturity of a teen, even though at home they are caregivers because parents must work two jobs to earn a living wage, or parents are mentally ill, substance abusers, sick, dying or dead.
"These kids" want to learn, even though at school, high-stakes testing forces them to work harder than any generation before them and, at the same time, limits their creative spirit. Class discussions that relate to their real-world experience and developing social skills have been replaced with filling in more bubbles on yet another standardized test.
"These kids" are frustrated. Their peers' photos are plastered in newspapers, and they are portrayed in sound bites as "juvenile offenders," where people with more time, resources and computer access can play the blame game. Meanwhile, they are in classrooms without even basic supplies or books, or in homes with limited or no computer access.
"These kids" want to be successful citizens; however, the lure of fast money that could feed their families or the outright threats and intimidation made by some adults in the community lead them down the wrong path. Adults bully them to do wrong more than their peers. They want people in the community to drop the "street code" and testify against those who are the real problems in their lives.
"These kids" are grieving the loss of family to early deaths that wouldn't have happened with better access to health care and less stressful lifestyles. They need help, support groups and guidance with their emotions. Too much bottled-up grief results in anger, and they wonder, "Can you look us in the eye and smile or give us a hug? Do you know who can help us?"
"These kids" want to be what you call "good kids," and in their hearts, they are. They want to volunteer and make a difference, but can't stay for an after-school club meeting or go to that evening town-hall meeting because they don't have the transportation. Besides, they have siblings to look after or jobs after-school, albeit often full-time, to help provide for the family.
"These kids" want you to believe them when they say, "I care, and I want a better world."
If this dead young man had come from another area or been a star athlete, outlets for grief would have been provided. The community hasn't provided, though, so "these kids" repressed their grief. And repressed grief becomes anger. At the end of the news hour, "these kids" have lost another one of their own, and they are ready to make a change; yet they must wonder, "Are the adults ready?"
Emily, I wish you could read that at the next town hall meeting. Hopefully I can be there this time. Last time, I had been to the dentist and still couldn't feel half of my face.