If you drive slowly through the Southeast region of Baltimore, you’ll see an area lacking in any kind of structures that claim this part of the city as a place for youth. I’m here in Baltimore working with a team of diverse educators to align resources, networks and ideas to start a Nonprofit that (hopefully) will change the landscape here to reclaim a place for young people of color. If we are successful in launching our project, we will be able to change the paths of the youth in this community through education and apprenticeship (job) positions.
It was during one of the summer youth programs I attended here in Baltimore that I met a young man, a junior in high school, who gave me a feeling that my life is coming full circle. He has a deep understanding about gentrification and how we must hold on to the diverse black cultures in our communities or we will all lose out. He talked about food. People need food, and when there’s access to meals from different cultures of the people who live in Baltimore, people have a chance to learn about one another.
After the discussion, I introduced myself to him. I made it clear that although I am an outsider to his community, I very much care about access to education, good food, the arts, and to the shared cultural exchanges that happens as a result. We decided to meet for coffee. (side note: I didn’t drink coffee in high school, but I guess kids today are different).
I thought he would see right through me and know my insecurities about mentoring young men of color because I, for the most part, lacked such male mentorship from leaders during my upbringing. But we had an amazing conversation, went deep on the issues using theory and raw-artistic practice. He showed tremendous gratitude for our meeting.
I realize now that the universe is preparing, challenging, and calling me to pay it forward by engaging in ways to support those who are coming up under me, the younger folk, just as those who are above me did. I’ll do it in my own unique way. The “unique way” part is still what I am learning.
Sometimes the most beautiful escape from our own struggles and triumphs is putting our own energy into listening or finding specific ways to support others that show you their light.
As adults I feel many of our issues are that we forget to stop leading, being in control, and by “we” I mean the men in our society. Men devalue vulnerability and what it shows others when you make efforts to come out of the adulating comfort zone. We have to embrace our youth, and one way to do this is committing to a practice where we learn from youth. Allow yourself to be not just inspired by those who are (much) younger than us but to take that inspiration and apply it to theory and practice.
I say all this because, in my field (nonprofits and higher education); I am learning how important it is to be available and (directly) connected to a community. Being an academic, especially at the doctoral level; the system gives us such a direct exit from being immersed in moments where our smarts cannot tower over one’s personal experiences and front line activism/service. I don’t want to get a PhD so I can live in an ivory tower. Nor do I want to live in a closet. I want to be my authentic self and be there for my community/communities in my own “unique way”.
My vision now is how can I use my personal experiences and the platforms I’ve been afforded to impact youth (and adults) who know their light and are ready to walk in their truth to help change this world.
We spend so much time thinking that how our differences are not acceptable in mainstream society that we don’t surround ourselves by enough individuals who are different from us in age, profession/sector, and academic level. I believe it is vital to see different experiences and the stories of fellow community members as a form of expertise that we, academics in the ivory tower, or nonprofit executives, may lack.
Guess life teaches you to just ‘be yourself’, in some of the most unexpected ways!