(I apologize in advance for the length of this blog, but this is heavy on my heart.)
The violent headlines lately have read like the script to one of my favorite Law and Order franchises. It’s a mess! Most recently, the life of a 15-year-old Birmingham boy was tragically taken in the wide-open public at our city’s beautiful Railroad Park. That should not be! And the fact that no witness has come forward is heartbreaking.
I grew up in the 80’s. Surely I’m not the only one who remembers what it was like with the list of gang names too long to name, senseless murders, people making dime bags at night and As and Bs in class during the day, girls fighting over boys or being fought by boys, teen pregnancy, girls devaluing themselves and their bodies, and so on. What’s happening now is nothing new, people! And none of these problems started in Railroad Park, Chi-town, your town or my town. It started with failed relationships. Somewhere down the line, someone didn’t get or accept what he/she needed to make better choices, believe there was a better way or dare to be different in a better way.
I’m a firm believer that, even in the midst of this madness, there is something we can do to help. In the middle of the marches, vigils, plans and petitions I propose we build better relationships with our youth by:
- Sharing our worlds.-When was the last time you helped a troubled teen in need, picked them up for church, scheduled a recurring day to mentor them while doing something fun, checked in on them at school, asked who their best friends were, sincerely asked how they were doing, invited them to your home or treated them to a “chat and chew” session at O’Charley’s or Applebee’s? You’d be surprised how freely people will share their dreams and fears, or what’s on their hearts and hurting them if you just allow them a space and safe, consistent place to do so. You’d be surprised the impact we all could make if we simply took the time to pour into them now rather than having to post bail, post about their troubles on Facebook or pray over their dead bodies later. Sometimes all they need is someone to hear and care.
- Speaking our words.Let us be real! All of us used to be someone we (hopefully) are no longer. Stop sitting on your past struggles and tell it to a child (or childish adult for that matter) that needs to hear that you haven’t always had it together, but through trial or testimony you were able to become who you are now. A lot of teens feel they can’t relate to us because we don’t let them relate to us…all of us…the good, the bad and the ugly. Don’t come at them as if you woke up on the sin-free side of the bed. Be real about your present successes, but be even more clear about your past struggles and show them a better way. If you know you used to sell drugs and you got kicked out of school, landed in jail, had to live in fear or lost friends in the “game” then tell that to someone who needs to hear it to help him/her. If you know you used to fight like you were getting paid by Don King in the 80’s and it caused you pain, your family pain and other people’s family’s pain then tell that to someone who needs to hear it to help him/her. If sex outside of marriage left you with an (initially) unwanted child, an “I never imagined having to deal with you for the rest of my life” baby’s mother or baby’s father, caused you to drop out, left you with years of chaos, or chlamydia then tell that to someone who needs to hear it to help him/her. If you know peer pressure got the best of you, or if you know you were the peer pressurer then tell that to someone who needs to hear it to help him/her. If your mama gave you your last and worst whipping at the age of 17 for skipping school with some friends (who weren’t really your friends) and then made you wear a black and white striped, mini-skirt from Parisian to school the next day so people could see how she left your mark then tell that to someone who needs to hear it to help him/her.
Those are just my simple suggestions, and are in NO WAY an excuse for the horrible decisions made by others. But there’s something we all can do to at least try to help. If we just start by making a difference in one person’s life, that one person could be the one person that helps other people. We’re created to be relational. Everyone wants to belong. Why not use your world and your words to give our children today something better to belong to and believe for?