Facing the Truth of the Devaluation of our Youth

This wasn’t something I intended to write about but after a few days ago, I just had to sit down and put pen to paper.

Annually I travel to Northern California to commune with a group of young men and women as a form of cultural exchange. Although the lessons are presented in curricula form I like to think we get a little more creative in our exchanges with one another. I like to view our time together as opportunities, not just for developing mental awareness but spiritual growth as well.

As most people are aware the funding for arts related activities is usually the first to suffer the swing of the hatchet man’s axe. Cries and screams of, “we’ve got to tighten our belts,” and “everyone must share in the economic shortfalls” have fallen on deaf ears with me, as I get older. Let’s be honest. Anyone who has lived a few decades is well aware that the first people to suffer in any, supposed, economic downturn are the children. I say “supposed economic downturn” because it seems the belt tightening often occurs with the demographic that cannot even afford to purchase belts while the engineers of the socio/economic train sport suspenders to support their ever expanding waistlines.

Oh, I apologize I got off on a bit of a tangent there didn’t I.

Well, here’s the point I wanted to make. This year, my trip to Northern California was in peril due to the “Economic Ship is Sinking” mantra makers. My family and I make whatever sacrifices we can to assure that this work continues but we’ve reached our sustainable limit. Just when all seemed that it might be hopeless, we get a call from our “above and beyond, more than dedicated” coordinator in Northern California. It seems that a parent heard about the dilemma that might keep me from making my annual trek and donated, anonymously, $1,000. When my wife contacted me to tell me the news I had to pull the car over. As irony would have it, I was in downtown Los Angeles and up the street, on the hillside; I could clearly see the Hollywood sign staring down at me (but that’s a whole other topic and I don’t want to digress any further).

The message that my wife gave me from our benefactor in Northern California was that the parent knows of and respects the value that we bring to the youth each year and did not want to see it interrupted. I can’t quite describe the emotions I was feeling; it was a strange mix of humility, thankfulness and of being affirmed. The sad part of this for me was that I will never know who the donor was because they chose to remain anonymous. You want to reach out and give someone a hug or tell him or her thank you but you’re unable to. This motivated me even more to continue doing what I do and continue my own growth as a person so that, hopefully, I have something more to offer each visit.

Now, this happened a few weeks ago and, as I said earlier, I hadn’t planned on writing about it. It seemed something rather personal that, I thought, was best kept to myself. And then, a few days ago, my wife got a call from a woman who is a teacher in the Long Beach Unified School District. This is a woman who is actually one of my heroines because of her love and dedication to her craft. She is another person who I work with each year. I visit her classrooms annually for a few weeks out of the year and impart whatever lessons are needed at the time. My wife and I had tried to tell her not to struggle with the funding because I was coming no matter what. She ignored our pleas and continued, not only her regular teaching work with the children but also acting as an advocate on my behalf to secure funding. Anyway, as I was saying, she called my wife to say that a woman who volunteers at the school heard of the shortfall they were having in securing funds for my weekly visits to the classrooms. This unknown volunteer handed her $500 towards funding the residency.

When my wife told me this I felt as if she were talking about someone else’s work not mine. I felt that strange mixture of humility, gratitude and respect once again, but more intense than before. I don’t know about many of you but one of the first things I usually attempt to do is to push the blessing away and say, “I don’t deserve it.” This is a character flaw in many ways and it is something I’m constantly struggling with. I once had a friend from Guinea, West Africa tell me, “you give and give and give; and then when someone tries to give to you, you refuse to accept. This is a very bad thing you do that creates imbalance in our relationships.” His words echoed back to me in this moment.

I guess the reason that I need to write these words is because “I” needed some form of release to express my joy; my gratitude towards souls like these who “see” into what I’m trying to do. I don’t know if these words will ever reach any of “you” but I just want you to know that, from the center of my heart, I thank you for believing in my work.

I apologize but if you’ll allow me a quick rant once more; there’s just one more thing I’ve got to say. I had a friend’s daughter who once called it, “the curse of consciousness;” the concept that once you are aware of a thing you can never become unaware of it. For me, my awareness of the economic shell game being played with the lives of our children by politicians and bureaucrats is an abomination to the ideals of all things humane. “I know” how and why resources are allocated and this causes me a tremendous amount of pain. Many of you know also. It isn’t a secret. The benefactors who I’ve mentioned above are the proverbial Davids hurling stones from their slingshots at the Goliaths of politics and industry who lack the humane and innate qualities which cause most of us to “always” place our children first; to sacrifice for them. It is the Davids of the world who truly embody the idea that “No Child Will Be Left Behind” as a truth and not rhetoric.

These people are the ones who constantly remind me of why I do what I do.

Dooni, dooni kononi bé nyaga da.

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