Yesterday at my field site, I helped lead our youth education for our middle schoolers. There were about seven of us in a smallish conference room and rather than going over the lesson for the day (from a curriculum that is just a tad too Arminian for my tastes), the CYF director suggested that we do a “Hot Topics” session. With the Trayvon Martin shooting in the background of the news, we thought it might be smart to take their pulse, see what they’ve heard, and just provide a space where they could talk about it.
Now, like most groups, there’s no way that we’re only going to stay on one topic for an entire hour. We covered a lot of ground – from video games, the problems downloading from X-Box live through some local news events and the last episode of “The Walking Dead.” We did get around to Tryvon Martin and we had a great conversation. I asked them about hoodies, fear, stereotypes, and what they thought that happened. Now, I’ll admit that I have a certain perspective on what happened and that my view did infiltrate the conversion – but I really tried to focus less on what happened in Florida and more about what happens in their lives in New York. I was impressed with how up-to-date on local events they were. They knew about the controversies we’ve been having over the stop-and-frisk policy of the NYPD. They had all experienced or witnessed the ageism associated with their being young kids and whenever they are “in packs.” And since they all live in a large city with a huge variety of people, they did share some common sense experiences of how they handle each other and other people. They also were honest about times when they felt discriminated against. We also shared what racism and stereotypes were. It was great being able to share my own experiences of being on the negative end of stereotypes and racism. Eventually, one of the kids even brought up what it means to be an American and I asked each of them what that meant. It was great because race, skin color, class, gender, sexuality, or anything like that didn’t show up in their definitions. They sounded so optimistic, I almost got emotional. I just wanted to tell them “NEVER CHANGE! Keep being open! Don’t limit your definitions to ‘a look!’ America should be bigger than that! My olive toned future kidling will greatly appreciate it!” I didn’t say that, of course, but I guess I’m optimistic about the future too.