“We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside…but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved. We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch, you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve spent a career working with young people and adults to teach young people to get engaged, get involved, and make a difference. I’ve taught adults how to take risks, called on leaders to step aside, and developed systems within systems to make sure that these new roles for young people throughout society were fostered in the most long-ranging ways I could imagine. For a long time I have been proud of what I’ve done, not in a boastful or arrogant way, but in a calmly content way that knew the time would arrive when my work wouldn’t be needed in the same way.
I have arrived at that place, though not as I originally hoped I would. Instead, I have arrived in the roundabout way that Dr. King spoke about in his 1967 called, “A Time to Break Silence”. His powerful rhetoric was directed at the Vietnam War, and determinedly called for a change in the very nature of the Civil Rights movement he’d been leading for more than two decades. It was in this speech that he uttered the quote above.
Today, I am in the midst of deciding to change the nature of my approach to the Youth Integration movement. Since I was 14, I have been involved in activist campaigns, community collaborations, and organizational transformation efforts designed to call adults to see further, and for youth to see deeper, into the very nature of our social structures. In the ensuing time I have learned a great deal of the ineffectiveness of this approach. However, I have learned a darker lesson: Somewhere within these well-intended initiatives is a poorly informed approach, which while reliant on systems to change, inherently pacifies the adults who are involved. We have not only allowed passiveness through sympathetic thinking, this Youth Integration movement has actually allowed for the system to further disable and entrench the oppression of youth, making pity the norm for youth engagement, youth involvement, and youth empowerment efforts.
It’s for this reason that I call on myself to take other steps, and why I am continuing my committed efforts to step away from complacency and towards discomfort. I am not sure where this will go, but I assure you that you, my faithful readers, will know when I arrive to this new place I am going.