Every now and then I read that the youth of today are self-absorbed, caught in the thrall of technological socializing, and seemingly oblivious to the larger world. However recently, I saw evidence to the contrary in the Mentoring program I coordinate.
The project for the semester had each of the students identifying an area of passionate concern. (These students are at-risk and many have good reason to be wrapped up in the their own issues.)
Once each student decided on the area they felt passionately about, the goal was for each of them to make a PSA on the school computers.
The students and the senior mentors paired up and began to discuss the issues. Inevitably there was a slow start where the mentors waited patiently while their partners circled around various topics until they settled on a particular area. Some wonderful conversations ensued about the what and why of each issue.
For some of the kids there were many things they cared deeply about and their challenge was to decide which one – or in the case of a large issue – which aspect. For others it was a matter of feeling their way towards an area.
Once they made their decision, they faced another challenge – how to depict it in one short minute? The mentors listened, asked clarifying questions and the students researched both the issue and the images available.
One young man was immediately caught up by the topic of hunger and after he learned about a nearby non-profit that gathered unsold food from farmers markets for the needy, he wanted to participate. He was disappointed to discover that they were active on the days he worked and so he could not follow up at that time. However his mentor had lived in Africa and told him stories of what she had seen. This influenced his choice of images in the PSA.
Another student chose child abuse. a third decided to take a humorous approach to the stupid things people do. Two girls, who discussed domestic violence and abusive relationships at length with their mentors, seemed to have trouble getting started on how to deliver their message. It seemed as if the semester was just about to end and they still had not started their work. The adults bit their nails hoping they would finish in time for the final screening
By the last week, however, all of the PSAs were completed and ready to show families, friends and school district administrators at the screening and end of term celebration.
After each mentoring couple stood up and talked about their process, we watched their PSA.
Abusive Love PSA https://vimeo.com/152854579
Child Abuse https://vimeo.com/152854588
World hunger https://vimeo.com/152854594
There was an awed silence after each one – and then applause – as it became apparent how deeply the students felt about the issues they had chosen.
These students could speak in very powerful ways to their peers about identifying and not tolerating abusive relationships, or to parents about treatment of their children and to us all about hunger.
At the end of the evening the Principal announced that she was going to send the work to the major organizations formed to combat these ills and we all agreed that this is a great idea.
I privately thought about my own adolescence and the issues I had cared so much about. I felt then that there was little I could do until I became an adult. I wondered if I appeared self-interested to adults who didn’t know the depth of my feelings.
Now, I am glad to see that accessibility to media and computers has made it possible for young people to avoid that particular feeling of powerlessness. But it still takes courage to speak up about what is wrong in the world. Bravo!