Over the holidays my cousin asked me a question that I didn't have the answer to. She was telling me about their local public school and how students were scared to go there because of the violence. Just recently, she explained, one of the kids had pushed another kid down a flight of stairs, injuring him to the point of hospitalization. She then went on to ask, "You work with Black people. Why do they hate each other so much?"
Despite the fact that I know there's probably some degree of underlying racism in that question, I didn't have an answer for her. In my mind, there is no short answer to that. Even if I had given her the long answer, I don't know that I could explain the oppression, the systemic racism, the self-hatred (often times due to the way the media presents people of color), the poverty, and the difficult family situations that all contribute to this phenomena. The answer is much too complicated...and quite honestly, I don't have an answer--either to refute her question or to affirm it.
Yesterday I had a conversation with a 20-year old I hadn't seen in quite some time. I've watched him grow up since he was about 9-years old. I've watched him change from a sweet, innocent child to an angry, self-destructive young man. I posed my cousin's question to him to which he replied, "I ask myself the same thing."
He doesn't know why he or his friends act the way they do. Once again, I think it's very complicated. But as he explained to me that he was trying to change and do things differently I began to realize that one of the major things that keeps holding him back is FEAR. He's afraid of venturing into the unknown. He told me point black, "I'm afraid if I step out I won't have any friends." That's powerful. And that's real. But it's not unusual. Several other teenagers have told me the same thing, "I'm afraid."
Even knowing that, I still can't say the solution to his fear is simple. We need to be available...we need to be visible...we need to be persistent. But sometimes even that doesn't work. I can't change his thinking...about himself or about the situations around him. Only he can.
I know for me, surrounding myself with good people who love me despite and in spite of myself really helps. Surrounding myself around people who I feel the need to be accountable to helps as well. The love that people show me despite my flaws continues to inspire me. I hope he can recognize that he has people around him who always have and always will love him as well. I hope he realizes that we want him to do better...for himself and for what he has to offer the rest of us. Hopefully that realization will help him conquer some of his fears as he steps out.