This old dude was so tired that evening but there was no way I was going to miss a Town Hall Meeting with such a compelling theme as “Silence is Worse than Violence” – especially considering that a number of youth leaders decided that such a gathering was needed to begin a conversation for solutions to the problem. I love it when our children take the lead.
The night was kicked off with a bumping rap about how, “We got to rise up above it” followed by a spoken word piece about love and respect and honoring our ancestries and histories. Amen.
That set a tone that was soothing to my aging bones and the featured speaker and moderator of the evening, Kevin Powell, a prominent voice in the hip hop generation, jumped right in without missing a beat with anecdotes about the rough edges of his youth and how he turned it all around and has devoted his life to positive hopeful causes like ending violence, in keeping with why we were all gathered at the Joe & Vi Jacobs Center.
I couldn’t help but lay my weariness aside and sit up and listen attentively as a panel of teenagers responded to Mr. Powell’s questions with answers that were inspiring in there clear and unflinching eloquence.
They spoke of how young people should find an identity, a voice, a way to reside in their own skin and advocate for themselves and how doing so through the arts can give them insights as to who they are and what they have to offer. “Think about what you like about yourself” one of them said. A quote of the evening for me was: “Pause on the negative. Play on the powerful!” Now you can’t go wrong with such an attitude as that.
They asked grownups to remember when they were young and full of themselves. “Bring the stool you’re standing on down,” was suggested along with the request to not expect perfection of them. “Be patient and supportive rather than trying to silence us.” Remember that “life isn’t over until the last breath.” So true; we can’t give up on our youth.
They sought understanding as they face the challenges in their existence, the drugs, the violence, the competitive pressures they face in school, the over emphasis on SAT scores that ignore that there are more ways to judge whether or not one can make it in college, the lack of self-motivation that plagues so many of their peers. More mentors are needed, they said. Too much to ask? I think not.
They broadened the definition of community to mean family and friends as well as neighborhoods and cities and expressed their feelings that there was a need for youth to bond and be there for each other. That’s delightful thinking in my book.
As to what can be changed for the better in our world, at large, they spoke to the need for society, as a whole, as well as classmates at their schools to strive to be more accepting of racial and ethnic differences, to cease dealing in stereotypes. This made sense as they were White, Somalian, Mexican American, Cuban American, Filipino American, African American.
And what stood out, particularly, for me, is this stellar panel spoke several times about the need for Ethnic Studies. “How else can we get a sense of what we can become if we don’t have a full sense of who we are and where we come from?” How can they, indeed?
I’ve been around young people all my life and know firsthand just how creative and commited to contributing ideas for positive solutions to critical societal problems they can be – when they’re given the opportunity.
It’s true that “Silence is Worse Than Violence.” But these beautiful young people spoke loudly and clearly. If we seriously considered the ideas they shared that Friday evening regarding establishing a climate wherein violence could be lessened in our community, we could realize a peaceful world. Don’t you think?