Graffiting, stealing, trespassing, gross vandalism, fighting… I was also the kid who’d sit in the back of the classroom and through pencils into the ceiling tiles just to see if I could get others to do it, too. Friday nights were mine to break out of the house and sneak up 24th Street to graffiti innocent walls, and Saturdays were for the garage down the alley, where there was a cache of lumber that I cajoled friends into helping me, um, “liberate.” We built a fort, and later re-purposed the wood for my bedroom in the basement. One of my favorite pasttimes was sneaking across lawns around the neighborhood without getting caught by the pit bulls or dealers or old men who lived in those houses, while teachers at school dreaded my lack of self-application. That seemed like their favorite line: “If you’d only apply yourself…”
Like I wrote last time, I did apply myself; only as a thorn in the side of adults around me. I was 15 when I tried to join the environmental club at my high school. The science teacher who ran it quickly let me know I couldn’t join because my grades were too low. I knew that was bunkus, mostly because I lived in a neighborhood that was filled with environmental contamination and a bad, bad track record of only getting worse, not better. So I decided to create my own environmental club. I wrote a manifesto and borrowed the photocopier at the local church to make the copies that I handed out to every single adult in the school. In my vision, the North Environmental Action Team would be an after school activity for students from the neighborhood to fight their own problems. My high school was a magnet school where the majority of white students were bused in from another part of the city; students from my neighborhood were mostly low-income whites and African Americans. Well, the North Environmental Action Team, or NEAT, never found an adult sponsor in the school. It wasn’t for lack of trying: I talked to every adult there. But that didn’t deter us. Instead, there were several guerrilla activist projects we did, including clearing the dumpsters of recyclables and giving the principal Earth Day greeting cards made of cardboard with 500+ student signatures on them. And maybe a little eco-centric graffiti here and there.
The reason I wanted to “revisit” my notion of “that kid” is that I’m afraid I made out myself to be something other than I was. In simple reality I was just another young person who was trying to make it through difficult circumstances. In my prattling off a list of friends, I neglected to mention all the adults who made a difference in my life when I was young. There was Idu Maduli and Laura Partridge-Nedds, both of whom I worked with in a drama program called “You’re The Star,” and who gave me the motivation I needed to work with young people for the rest of my life. There were ministers, too, like Helen and Steve and Jamie. My parents’ friends kept me in line, especially Tracy’s mom, Betty, and when I was young, Kal’s mom, who called me “Trouble” from the age I was 12. All these adults, and so many more, helped me through my younger years. My dad’s friend Chuck took me to my first play and helped me audition for my first theater performance.
All this is to say that I can’t paint a decisive picture of my own youth in own blog entry. This was a little more info to say that just like all of us, the sum of the whole is greater than its individual parts. Its important to remember this when we think of engaging youth, especially that kid.