When I was in college, my cousin started dabbling in drugs. He ended up getting stopped by the police and sent to an out-patient rehab center.
After word got out, I can remember one of my friends in our small town telling me, "He'll be alright. He's been raised by good parents. He'll come out of it."
Sure enough, he did. He's married with three children, runs his dad's farm, and is an upstanding citizen maintaining the good Morrison name in our small town.
Unfortunately, the stakes are much higher in the inner city. Once a kid messes up, it seems that it is much harder to recover. A police record is much harder to break for a kid in poverty and a kid from certain neighborhoods. The surroundings seem to pull children down and keep them there. One mistake sends them into a downward spiral. It is because of these odds that it makes me breathe a sigh of relief when I watch a student consciously make a decision and put forth great effort to do something different.
I thought of that as I talked to Kia* (not her real name) the other day.
Kia is now in the 8th grade, but she was in our After-School Academy for about four years--first as a student, then as a volunteer. She has a mom who strongly encouraged academics and did everything she could to keep her children involved in productive activities...even if it meant spending extra money.
Kia started out as any young elementary student. She was smart. She was interested. She followed her mom's rules. But as Kia got older, she became influenced by her surroundings. Her attitude made her more difficult and her school work started suffering. Not only was she being influenced, but began influencing others as well. The teen girl attitudes seemed to take on a ripple effect throughout the After-School Academy.
She and her family moved several months ago. I stayed in touch with the family, but didn't talk to Kia much except to say hi and chat with her a little here and there.
The other night I went over to see the family, but everyone was gone but Kia. As we sat and talked, she eagerly began telling me how she had made a conscious decision to change her attitude and begin focusing on her education. She proudly told me that she had all A's and could see now why her younger sister hated getting B's. She had decided she needed to begin working on everything now so that she could be prepared for college.
As I quizzed her about how this all took place, she simply explained, "I just decided."
I know it was more than *just* a decision. I know that her mom's perseverance probably had a lot to do with it. I would guess that being a part of the community we had created in the After-School Academy had a part as well. But I also believe that them moving away also played a major part.
Either way, I'm glad she made such a conscious and intentional decision. It was really good to listen to her. It was so great to see such a genuine smile on her face and hear her chuckle about her "old self" as if she were a grown woman looking back on her teen years. Her conversation seemed lighter...friendlier. It seemed like the attitude she used to have was a burden and had been taken off of her shoulders.
The stakes are high for kids in the inner city. We need to provide as much support, guidance, and encouragement alongside the parents. We need to make sure there are plenty of opportunities available for kids like Kia to make that decision.
"It takes a village," is more than a cliche and the kids need to know there are many of us there to walk beside them long term.