OK, so you know I made a promise to myself to write every day, and I have. Just not on my blog every day so it’s currently day 6 of my blog and day 12 since my pledge! That’s $240 closer to Italy, whoo hoo!
Yesterday was quite the day. I volunteered for a non-profit organization called Challenge Day that goes into schools and helps 7-12 graders (or teachers/businesses, organizations) to connect, stop bullying, racism, etc. I met the most amazing, compassionate, open young people. But they didn’t appear that way when we first met.
As they entered the room, we adults made a tunnel, cheering them on, as if they were stars or famous. Just darn glad to see them! Many of these 7th graders have the expressions adults and parents have come to know and love as, “What the hell are you doing and why the hell are you embarrassing me?” (Yes, today’s young people cuss). Some gave a bashful smile or a returned a high-five and yet other children just soaked it up with huge smiles like, “Finally, my fans have arrived!” Isn’t that interesting?
If you walked into a room and a group of people cheered you on, high fived you, patted you on the back, yelled and whooped it up, how would you respond? Which group would you be in?
Backing up: Remember I mentioned that I was at a primary party in Annapolis, watching the vote count for our city election? And if you didn’t, here’s a recap because if your memory is anything like mine, you can hear a story more than once and only remember at the very, very end that you’ve heard it before. (Oh yea, I remember that story, book, movie, person…)
Anyhow, we party gatherers were supporting Gavin Buckley for Mayor, who is a businessman who has provided jobs, renovated a rundown part of Annapolis and turned it into a thriving restaurant and arts area, and has a big dedication to the under served and our youth. (Remember) I met Gavin when he showed up to help us deliver air conditioning units in one of our public housing developments during the summer (with no fan fair, publicity seeking or bravado. He just lugged the units, helped the volunteers and greeted the residents).
So, towards the end of the Gavin’s celebration party (he won the primary!), I went up to congratulate him. I told him how inspired I was by what he was doing for our town and especially young people. At one of his speaking engagements I heard him speak about wanting the young people of Annapolis to be able to stay and work in the community after they grow up/graduate, to be able to raise their families here. Often it is just too expensive for many people to live here. We’re known for having two Annapolis’s, one with great wealth and another without it.
I told him I was volunteering for a youth anti-bullying, anti-racism and self-esteem program called Challenge Day that was coming to a nearby county school system. I told him that I’m hoping to bring this program to our area schools, to combat the racism, bullying and division we are seeing. (And gangs, we have four missing Hispanic boys at the moment which breaks my heart.) And I asked him, “Do you have someone on your team who might like to join me?” His response, “I do. I want to go!” I have worked with a lot of political leaders, activists and famous folks and rarely do I get that response, for personal, hand-on involvement. I was shocked, impressed and so happy.
Therefore, Gavin was with me at Challenge Day, along with one of his buddies, political strategist and restaurateurs Brian Callahan, who among other things owns 49 West a coffee-house, food, music, art hangout in Annapolis and home to many. We ended up carpooling because some idiot drove over a median on the way to the coffee house to meet them. (Me). Actually, it’s more the idiot who built it, apparently this is a common problem. Note to the owners of the buildings near Starbucks on West St: Paint the dang median; make it higher, or put trees on it. Because idiots like me can’t see it in the dark at 6:00 a.m. Probably because most of them haven’t had their coffee yet. (Or form of caffeine because you know I don’t drink coffee, and if you don’t go back to Day One of this blog!)
Ok, so Challenge Day starts with a lot of high energy activities and ways to connect on a small level. Then we are put into “family units”: one volunteer adult to 4-5 youth, in my case four 7th graders. My circle looks something like this: one girl arms crossed, “I don’t even know what we’re doing here.” Scowl. Another boy, looking anywhere but at the three girls in our group. Another bright eyed and bushy tailed waiting to talk. And another young lady looking in wonderment at me. (And if one of you is reading this, I may or may not be making this up! And spoiler alert: I do not reveal your personal issues or identities.)
“So, what are we going to do?” one cutie pie says. “I really don’t know,” I reply. Shock and awe. How often does an adult actually admit that? Oh no, if YOU don’t know we are really screwed says the thought bubble. I add, “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. It is Challenge Day so I guess it’s a challenge.”
After exercises and activities and a few hours one of the facilitators introduces the concept of the Iceberg. That 10 percent of the iceberg is above water, it’s all that you see. But, 90 percent is below the water line, what you don’t see. And that’s how we are, we only see about 10 percent of others, what they wear, their facial expression, what groups they belong to, etc. And maybe that’s all we show or share….
They asked the kids, what’s the 90 percent below the water line? Kids knew. They said, “Depression, drugs, loneliness, insecurity, abuse, neglect, family problems, etc., etc.” And some positives, “Talents, confidence, interests in books, shyness …” The leader then told a very personal story about her upbringing, successes, challenges, losses, self judgments, racism, and victories. She bravely shared a story of the death of a loved one by suicide. As I looked around many of the children’s eyes were tearing up. They were touched. (The hard shell is beginning to crack and open!) Or, the water line is lowering….
So, then came the first big “challenge” of Challenge Day. Go back to your family unit and in two minutes, lower the water line of your ice berg, share some of what people don’t see or know. Say these words and complete this sentence, “If you really knew me you’d know …”
Challenge Day leaders always ask for volunteer participation, one of the things I respected most about Challenge Cay — honoring children where they are, letting them choose their own level of comfort and participation. It’s rare we empower young people that way. It was SOOO wonderful to see. They asked who would be courageous enough, in each family unit, to begin the exercise with the “if you really knew me…” None of my kids raised their hands, so that meant the adult, (me, I’m the adult?), goes first. Each person has exactly 2 minutes to use however they wish, in silence or speaking. No judgement. No pressure. (Again, great guidance.)
Following the lead of the leader, I was honest and deep and real. I said, “If you really knew me, you’d know that my daughter is gay and I love her with all my heart. That when my daughter went to college, I had to bring her home because she was suicidal, due to rape. That every time she leaves the house and comes home late I worry something has happened to her. That I love this girl so much and want her to have love and happiness and she has worked very hard to heal and I’m very proud of her.” By this time my tears are freely flowing.
As I finally have the courage to look up into my young people eyes, I see they are tearing up and openly crying too. They care. They are sensitive. I am really touched and we connect more deeply than we had. I continue with, “If you really knew me, you’d know that every day I wake up in pain because of surgeries I had due to a very serious illness. If you knew me you’d know I push through that and I give to my community and I care about others and even though I make mistakes as a mom, I love my daughter with all my heart.” (My daughter has publicly shared all the above and given me permission to share I am not outing her).
And it was their turn, which I won’t share because it is confidential. Suffice it to say each of these amazing young people have great challenges in their life. I can say, they and many others, noted that they had no idea their friends were going through things like this. All of these things made them cry. And it was a safe place to do so. After every share, each young person hugged the other. They also hugged me after my share. Even the young man reached out to each of us which made me so grateful. He showed all kinds of courage to share his feelings, because as we know, boys are not “supposed to” cry or show their feelings. Echoes of the destructive messaging of our ancestors, but hopefully not future parents and society.
As soon as they exercise was completed, the young people searched the room for their friends. From around the room, sharing and comfort about illness, abuse, death, racism, loneliness, etc…. The first thing I saw and heard was a young lady embracing another and saying, “I’m SO sorry.” For what, I don’t know. Was it judgment, racism, coldness, disconnection, a rift in the friendship, or simply not knowing what was below the waterline? I saw a deeper connection between so many young people, so much compassion, so much empathy. It was beautiful and gave me such hope for the future of this school and each of these students.
I challenge you to go below the waterline. But don’t hit someone with it right away. It takes a little time to set the tone, to create a sense of safety and confidentiality. You could share this story and see how they react to the concept. There is no question to me that it connects people to one another, it enables more compassion and begins to tear down the walls of racism, sexism and all the other isms that make us separate from one another.
There were some other really great insights I gained and I’ll share with you at a later date. Crossing the line. Really powerful (is that enough of a cliffhanger to make you check out my blog later?)
Part of the result of the day, for me anyway, is an emotional exhaustion that inhabits your whole body. I was so incredibly tired that night and even the next day (is that today? Yesterday? I think so! Geez). So apparently it also wipes out your short term memory.
If I really knew you, what would I know? Feel free to share with me in the comments, on my Facebook or privately through email. I’d love to connect and see who you really are. I think that’s one of the greatest challenges of being human, showing who you are, which may begin with remembering who you are. Human amnesia, remember?
With gratitude (con gratitudine),
Barbara, Your Intentional (Iceberg explorer) Co-Creator
PR expert and author of Feeling Loved, A Ted E. Bear Story
P.S. I recommend you bring Challenge Day to your community, for your young people and our future.
P.P.S. I wrote from 9-10:24, does that count as 1.5 days?
P.P.P.S I am so freakin’ tired I am going to take a nap. Is 10:30 am too early to take a nap? Answer: Hell no. Take care of yourself. (That’s what Aunt Kitty told me just this morning, You take care of you.)