On Wednesday, April 10th, I had the honor of participating in Overbrook High School’s Career Day. I had an absolute blast speaking with the students not only about higher education and their future career plans, but life in general. In addition to that, I got to participate in the priceless experience with organizations and professionals from across the tri-state area.
It impacted me on multiple levels causing me to have to take a moment to sit and reflect on it all just minutes after I reached my car…
and escorted to my room assignment by a dutiful JROTC student, I had the opportunity to observe a presentation before getting started.
As I scanned the room, I noticed to the far back-right corner of the room some students holding full-blown conversations as the speaker gave her presentation. I shook my head remembering how I was inclined to do that in high school when social matters seemed more important. Scattered throughout the room were students on their phones finding more fancy in the internet realm than the current one. The others engaged with the speaker as she went through a mock budgeting exercise with a student at the board.
Gotta love high school. I thought.
But not on my damn watch, you all won’t.
Minutes later I was up next for my first session of the half-day.
I scanned the room again, more intently, this time examining faces and looking each of them in their eyes.
“What did the last speaker talk to you about? What do you remember?” I asked with my head cocked to the side.
Silence and “umm’s”.
Eventually, a slow roll of distorted responses came out.
“Man it was boring. I don’t really remember,” said one student.
Well damn. I thought. I mean, that was honest. I can respect honesty.
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
I wrote it in huge letters on the board and then turned while asking the question aloud to them.
“To be happy.”
“To get my mom out the hood.”
Responses similar to these came from students in the rooms where I presented. They were good responses, but too general.
So, I dug deeper.
“How long do you have to live on this earth?” I asked.
They looked at me like I was crazy.
“I don’t know. We don’t know when we’re going to die.”
“Hoping we can live as long as possible out here.”
I responded that no, we don’t know…but we do know the average life expectancy for men and women, and people of different races.
“Yeah, like twenty-two [years-old]!” said one male student. The students around him laughed in agreement at his statement.
I think that that notoriously quoted statistic has been unintentionally plaguing African-American young men for a long time now. I think it has impacted their perspective/outlook on life.
Why? Humor me for a second:
Imagine that a person of authority [because that’s what adults are] tells you that as an African-American male [even if you’re of a different race–I said humor me]:
a.) People of your race and age don’t make it past 25 years of age.
OR instead that…
b.) People of your race and sex tend to live for [what the CDC now says is] 72 years.
How would your perception be shaped by each of these statistics. Remember, you’re the average, impressionable youth. How would each of these very different, but valid, realities influence your perception of life and your place in the world?
I focused on the latter statistic when addressing the student on his statement.
“So what do you want to do with your time here on earth–70-something years–before you die?” I asked again.
The entire class stared at me…pondering their responses.
Finally…we had their attention.
For the most part, I started all of my classes this way. We then moved on to my story as a teen-mother; the importance of knowing what motivates you, because once another person figures that information out, they can greatly influence/control you; the importance of knowing your purpose–even when it comes to showing up for school; the ways in which life will test you both in school and in general; how detrimental social networking can be when not used properly; the importance of choices and the power that comes in recognizing that you have them; and how they can benefit from showing their teachers respect.
I spoke to three classes in total and I must say that it was extremely heartwarming and motivating to see their eyes light up in anticipation for what I would say next. To watch them digest the information and then attempt to apply it to their lives; and to witness how eager they were to obtain my contact information, connect with me on social networks and let me know that they enjoyed having me was one of the most fulfilling things that I think a person in this day and age can possibly experience.
For those who don’t know: TEENAGERS ARE O.G.’s.
For my lovely diverse audience, that means “original gangster”. But not the gangster that you may be thinking of.
I say that in the sense that: they’ll call you out on your bullshit. If they don’t believe for one second that you’re genuine, if they smell an insecurity or that you don’t know the proper way to approach or engage them–they’ll write you off quicker than an accountant doing taxes on April 14th.
Anywho, these young adults…they were amazing and wore their potential brightly on their faces as we interacted with one another.
By the time I left, I had received countless follows on Instagram and e-mails from students looking to stay in touch.
I thanked God as I prayed while making my way back to my office.
A shoot-out took place less than a block from the school, leaving one of their classmates, Bernard Scott, dead and two other youth–one of whom is now a suspected gunman–wounded.
My Instgram was full of Overbrook students sharing his picture and capturing RIP posts.
Our babies are hurting, you all. They’re in pain and suffering from so many different things in life.
This generation of youth are being tested like no other. It’s almost impossible for them to remain kids anymore–to retain their sense of innocence when facing the realities of our society.
Whether you are a police [officer] or a thug on the streets… Whether you look for beef or you livin’ in peace…Whether you back down or you stand strong–bold…We never know what tomorrow gon’ hold…R.I.P
In my opinion our old ways [top-down approach] of dealing with youth and violence aren’t working–at least not in this city.
It’s time to think outside the box.
It’s time to support our youth through new avenues.
It’s time to realize that these aren’t just “kids”; many of them have been overexposed to so much more than they should be.
So what the hell are we going to do about it? Because our babies…our babies are hurting…
Wait, what am I saying? Unt-uh…
They’re not babies anymore. They’re hurting young people–smaller sized versions, reflections even (or a snapshot of the past) of you and me.
You all see how dysfunctional and insecure and fearful and irresponsible grown adults can be.
Chiiiillllleeeee….let me shut-up…
To my Overbrook High loves:
“Ms. Reeta” is praying for you. You all are really the only ones who can fuel this change that’s needed. I know you’re tired of looking around and seeing another one of your people’s lost to the streets; to drugs; to a gun; to violence; to immature thinking; to the system; to a lack of resources from people who are in positions to help….
I know you’re tired of it.
Hell, a lot of people in this city are tired. So I ask YOU my high school sugas who are so full of life–and yes, pain–when is enough, enough? How can we stop this?
Let us know what we need to do to help you, to protect you, to love you better, to support you better, to actively-listen to you better…
You’ve certainly got my attention.
– Sincerely Syreeta