I’m flying right now and thinking about my roots in youth engagement. One of those roots grew about 20 years ago when I was a teenager living in Omaha, Nebraska. The year I was 15 I was invited to go to Chicago for an anti-youth violence conference. It was my first conference, my first airplane ride, and my first youth action training.
My neighborhood was torn up my youth violence, with drive-bys and getting jumped as daily staples of our social reality. The news slammed us, too, constantly portraying our blocks as terrible and terrifying. If I’d known differently I might’ve agreed; but I didn’t- this was my home and I was tired of the parents of my school friends who wuldn’t let their kids come to my house because it was in “that” neighborhood.
I live far away from that neighborhood now- but my memories are fresh in my imagination. I remember my little sister’s friend Fish who was as powerful a leader as any I’ve ever met even though his skills were mostly applied in dealing illicit narcotics. There were my best friends Joe and Tracy who dropped out of Scouts as soon as they realized it wasn’t cool – even though they were as good, if not better than me, and should’ve got Eagle Scout, too. The stories in my family, among our friends, and throughout that neighborhood stay here, too. They keep me company in long state government meetings, during marathon writing sessions, and on another cross-country flight, like right now.
I can’t sit waiting, hoping that some other reality will come along and steal my imagination to make me it’s own. Instead, I continue to work, giving room for my memories to meet my present, and allowing my past to inform my future. How about you- are you waiting, or working?