A few Saturdays ago, I had the opportunity to represent Girls in the Game at the Anti-Violence Forum organized by the Imani Pearls Community Development Foundation. I asked the organizers if we could bring along two of our Teen Squad members to help us staff our resource table, because who better to speak about our programs than our participants? So, I found myself at South Shore High School early on a chilly Saturday morning and to be honest, I was unprepared for what the day would bring.
I knew there was going to be a panel of speakers and a group of 200 high school students from the South Side of Chicago. I knew two of our Teen Squad members would be attending with us to speak about Girls in the Game during the resource fair. And I knew it was early on a Saturday morning and I needed more caffeine. So when I say I was unprepared, I mean I was unprepared for the rawness and the hurt and the passion for change that came out of this forum.
The panelists spoke with such honesty about how violence has impacted their lives and they talked of real stories, real experiences. Whether it was the former gang member, the police office, or the grieving parent; what they shared was incredibly real and opened up a dialogue with the students that left me speechless. Teens stood up and spoke from the heart about how violence has touched their lives. They stood up and asked the difficult questions: Why do people make the choices they do? Where is the support when we most need it? Where are the guns coming from? When will it end? Questions to which, right now at least, there are no answers.
I was unprepared for how this forum would impact the teens who came with me to this event, sometimes forgetting that a tough and confident exterior can easily mask pain and sadness. And I was unprepared for my own overwhelming emotion. In my time working with teens, I have lost two teenagers to violence and it became abundantly clear to me on this Saturday morning that the hurt is still very much with me. But in hearing the panelists and listening to the teens, I realized how important it is to recognize the hurt and then try and create something positive and lasting from it.
I can safely say that every single person left impacted by what we heard and left wanting to do something about it. I know that one of the Teen Squad members has already spoken to her school administrators about hosting a similar forum at her school because as she said “violence is not just a South Side problem.” She’s right, it’s an everyone problem.
It took a chilly Saturday morning to remind me that just as the violence epidemic is everyone’s problem, it’ll take everyone to find a solution. So I issue a challenge, Girls in the Game is doing our part. How about you?
Until next time,