March 15, 2011
This is the 2nd year that I have visited the CCJDC, in what I have now dubbed “The Jayson Porter Project.” This year, the teens not only read “The Death of Jayson Porter” but they also read my first novel “Names Will Never Hurt Me.” It is hard to put into words how incredible this experience was, yes, for the 2nd year in a row. These young people are not lost, they aren’t hopeless, they just took a little detour from which It is my sincere hope they will recover.
My visit went far beyond discussing the words in my books. The books really were just a starting point. We talked about life and decisions and responsibility of both parent and child— adults and society as a whole.
One young man, (who as it turned out scored the highest on the test that was required in order to meet with me) told me that since everyone just expected him to do bad things that’s exactly what he did.
“What if you decided not to meet their expectations?” I asked.
His response, a shrug and a look that said, “man you just don’t understand.” But after another hour, there was something in his eyes that told me he was listening.
Not lost, just a little detour.
Over the course of my two- hour plus visit, that same young man as well as others was engaged in a conversation that could rival some college classroom discussions.
Those who appeared hardened to thinking outside the constructs of their own boxes, had by the end of my visit, at least begun to ask the question; “What if?”
“What if I don’t meet their expectations?” “What if I stand up for what I know is right, even though everyone and everything around me is wrong?”
We had lengthy discussions on the state of our youth, bullying and teen suicide. One young man said, “Kids just don’t care.” Seemingly throwing in the towel on any hope as to curbing the growing epidemic of bullying and teen violence. But towards the end of my visit that same young man, after hearing his peers speak so eloquently on the subject, offering hope and ideas for change, that same young man began to crack a smile. He began to let at least a ray of hopeful sunshine enter his mind. Something was changing inside of him. Maybe there is hope after all? And maybe, I could be a part of it?
That was my message that day, and it was my message the day before at the Teen Summit for Non-violence and Inclusion in Dayton. The agents of change are our youth. It is our teens that will ultimately turn this tide of violence around. Whether they are sitting in a high school classroom or in a detention center. They have the power. Who are teens really going to listen to? (Hint: other teens.)
Our society tells them not to care about any one but ME. That message is cut, copied and pasted into their young minds from the earliest of ages. Consume, buy, don’t worry about anyone else but ME. Unchecked narcissism, I believe is one of the greatest scourges of our culture. (Duh? Charlie Sheen.)
Why should a teen care if another kid is being picked on? Or being called names? Just as long as they leave ME alone. But as one young man at the detention center so powerfully stated; “That could be your cousin, or your brother, or your sister. Would you want that to happen to them?”
Yes, in the bigger picture we are all family even if not by blood relation. And that is the way we need to begin thinking, this is what we need to begin teaching our young people. It’s not too late to change. To turn this ship of tragedy around.
The young men and woman at the Clark County Juvenile Detention center know this. They know that they are the conductors, the ship captains on this voyage. They may be wearing orange jump suites now, but that is only a temporary condition. They have more wisdom and insight than all of our so-called experts and political leaders put together. These teens are our future. They are some of the best and brightest that our society has to offer. Don’t let their current address fool you.
I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for these teens. The positive impact they all will make on our society. We need them now more than ever. We need their voices to be heard on the OUTSIDE. We need their positive actions to be seen, on the OUTSIDE. We need them to guide other teens on the path of promise, the path of productivity, the path of hope, the path of love.
WE need THEM . . .