We are failing our youth!
In our desire to leave our kids better-off, we have created too many empty houses with empty hearts. We have sacrificed our time for financial gain. We failed to look at all youth as our youth. And since we never put our own baggage down we unconsciously unloaded it onto our children.
These are powerful lessons I learned from talking to 40 high school girls at a local high school in Louisville, Kentucky. Jessica Taylor, executive director of My PATH Foundation, and I had the privilege of leading a program about self-concept and how to show up with more confidence.
From the moment I had the students write down the labels they give themselves or other people have given to them throughout their lives I learned just how damaged many of the young women in the room felt. Fat, ugly, white (from a black girl), and bully were all common themes. These young women owned the labels they had been told about themselves and they draped the emotion and baggage of that word on their souls. I witnessed children lugging around an invisible bag of experiences filled with emotion that no one gets to see or often hear. These bags are no gift. They are full of raw un-nurtured vulnerability and stories of untold pain.
So how do we as leaders in our communities change this?
We start by providing a safe space for our youth to put down their baggage, share the contents, and refuse to put the negative contents back in the bag. We must release our youth from the weight of their baggage and the baggage we have made them carry for years. This is how we allow our youth to heal so they can rise up to the level of their potential.
We must challenge our youth to rewrite their labels
with different energy so they have a new language on how to talk about themselves. We can do this by having them declare “I Am _____” statements for their lives. These statements help our youth get a new vision for how they want to show up every day.
Jessica and I encouraged the young women to visualize how someone who believed that statement would carry themselves. They then strutted down a red carpet while declaring their “I Am _____” statement in front of their peers.
- I am good enough
- I am uniquely me
- I am black and beautiful
- I am the queen of my life
- I am perfectly imperfect
Declaring new words for your life is a positive step in the right direction; however, it is not enough. The next step is to identify daily behaviors that would support the “I AM” statement. For example, if your statement is “I AM GOOD ENOUGH” then write 3-5 of the following statements: If I really believed I was good enough then I would. . .
- Catch myself when I start to talk negatively about my weight, looks, grades, work-ethic and tell myself I am good enough the way I am
- Write a book and quit putting it off
- Create my own opportunities vs. waiting for them to appear
- Forgive myself for my past
- Honor my natural talents and find ways to use them more
Transformation Starts With You!
Finally, these young women taught me that sometimes transformation starts when other people believe in us more than we currently believe in ourselves.
We as leaders must stand alongside these individuals and see a bigger vision for them. Sometimes their baggage is just too heavy and too wide for dreams to appear. We must be willing to move beyond the boundaries of classwork, job responsibilities, and social decorum if we are going to meet people where they are and raise them to a new standard of living. You do not have to be a therapist, a psychologist, or a counselor to do this type of work. You just have to be human and willing to open your heart.
We can make a different choice!
Put your arm around a child’s shoulder today, look them in the eye, and tell them, “I got you. You’re not going to fall.” You just might be the voice and the shoulder that someone needs to put their baggage down and heal.