I took some teenagers to a Youth Empowerment Summit yesterday. A friend of mine was there with her 13-year old son. I have known them since her boy was about 4 or 5 attending our summer camp. Lately, every time I see her, she expresses her sadness and frustration with her son's bad decisions that have put him in juvenile and had him wearing a monitor on his leg.
She has talked to him. She has had me talk to him.
It's not enough.
Another friend of mine has tried to convince me for quite some time now that I, a White woman, cannot be everything to these Black boys. They need a male figure in their lives. They need a Black male figure in their lives.
I've had a hard time being convinced. For some reason I think that my relationship with them might be enough to convince them to change their ways. I'm beginning to realize, however, that though the kids may hear and respect me on one level, there is much more that they need that I, a White woman, can't offer them. No matter what I do, I have not been in their shoes. I cannot relate to the struggle and the peer pressure they face. There are things that young Black males in the United States deal with that people outside of that context will never understand. I don't know what it's like to be raised by a single parent. I can't imagine the frustrations of not having a dad in my life who is available and cares about me enough to discipline me and set guidelines for me.
I do believe that we all have something to offer--no matter what socioeconomic level, ethnicity, etc. And I do believe that my role is to offer the things that I can relentlessly. I can't give up and I can't go away. Too many people do.
However, I am beginning to recognize there are vital things that I can't offer. I have to listen and observe. If I am to be effective, I have to seek out the resources that go beyond my abilities. It may cause me to get out of my comfort zone.
I hear people all the time talking about "it is better to give than to receive." It's a concept I hear a lot from Christians. If that's true, then wouldn't the even better gift be to give, or seek out in order to give, what the person needs or wants more so than just giving what I think they need or giving them what I know I have to offer? Ever get a gift that you didn't really want? You know the ones...you appreciate the person's good intentions, but you have absolutely no use for it so you just say thank you and try to figure out a way to not offend the person?
Maybe the greater good is not just thinking we need to go to the inner city and offer people something, but figuring out how we can partner with people...get out of our comfort zone...meet new people...in order to seek out the resources that benefit people the most. And sometimes we will find the resource is not us. Isn't that the unselfish giving Jesus was talking about?