One of the reasons why I cherish working at Cross High School is because I see so much of myself in the students. The student population at Cross is predominately Black and Latino. Many of the students in the program I work with also come from single-parent and poor or working-class families. They are me and I was them.
My mother raised my brother, sister and I, on food stamps for a time, and money was always scarce. She did this on her own, in Bushwick, one of the poorest and crime-ridden neighborhoods in Brooklyn, NY. This scenario is very similar if not the same for many of the young people I worked with over the summer.
While there are some kids that are thriving at Cross, there are some kids that are struggling either academically and/or emotionally. While I don't doubt there is love in the homes of the latter group, I know that the stresses of single-parenting and having to struggle to make ends meet, takes it's toll on the family.
I saw in these kids the same signs of it affecting them the way it did me. For many of them there self-esteem is in constant need of repair. I also saw many of them put up this front that was designed to protect them by scaring away any possible threats.
At times I was able to see beyond that and get a better look at the person behind that mask. This inner-view revealed to me a young human being that needed to be understood and feel they have a safe place. Also crucial for these young people is that someone shows them they care and have the patience to support them.
Unfortunately, I think many of them will have a hard road for some time. Most of the real repair and evolution may come when they are adults and can take more control of their own lives.
Now with that said, it doesn't leave their families, community, or teachers off the hook. All of us need to always shine our own lights and give of ourselves to help them navigate the dark times they can go through. The payoff in my opinion is we save ourselves by saving others. We enable another human being to be able to share their gifts with the world.